So, in Oakland that means no circus. The City Council has approved an ordinance, 5-2, to ban bullhooks―big spike-tipped, spear-like implements with hooks that effectively bend the will of multi-ton creatures to that of their much smaller masters. Animal rights groups hate them and won the political argument.
Oakland joins a small group of cities, including Los Angeles in 2013 and Miami, that have banned bullhooks. Austin voted for the ban the day after Oakland. Cities and counties in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, New York, Kentucky and Indiana have banned them.
The Oakland ban takes effect in 2017 and some skeptics think the city may revisit the decision in the future. More than 30,000 people attended the circus in the summer and the heavily-indebted publicly-financed Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum complex reportedly would lose $400,000 in revenues if it doesn’t come to town.
And that is just what the circus says will happen.
“(That) will be the last time we will be in Oakland because we can't perform without the elephants,” circus spokesman Stephen Payne told the Associated Press. Payne told City News Service last year, “Our elephants are the No. 1 reason people come to see the Greatest Show on Earth.”
Thomas Albert, vice president of government relations of Feld Entertainment, owners of the circus, characterized bullhooks as “guides” and “elephant husbandry tools” used by some zoos, according to United Press International. “Without this tool, you cannot have elephants at the circus. Period,” he said.
Elephant goads have been around for a long time. Cave paintings in India from the second century B.C. depict one of nature’s more intelligent life forms being jabbed with the instruments. The bullhooks were part of the ritualistic iconography surrounding elephants, which are a symbol of wisdom and intelligence in Asian cultures. The hook is inserted into the sensitive skin of an elephant to cause pain and convince it that resistance is futile.
They are, indeed, all called circuses, but strike many who grew up with lions and tigers and bears (and galloping horses, lumbering elephants and exotic animals) as another thing—it’s like comparing California designer pizza to the real thing in New York or Chicago. They want their wild animals.