HSVMA Leadership Council Member Opposes Handling of Elephants with Bullhooks

September 9, 2008

The subject of bullhooks and tethers to manage elephants in captivity was recently called into discussion in the August 15th edition of JAVMA. HSVMA Leadership Council member, Dr. Paula Kislak, submitted a Letter to the Editor regarding the new AVMA position statementon elephant handling, which sparked a response from Drs. Gail Golab and David Miller of the AVMA.

Elephant behind bars
Intelligent and social creatures, elephants are often confined and handled inhumanely in captivity.

Dr. Kislak's letter states that the AVMA policy fails to ensure safe and humane handling of elephants and still condones a coercive management system that leads to unsafe and inhumane conditions and serious abuse by elephant exhibitors. 

Instead, Kislak advocates the protected contact management system—a kinder approach based on positive reinforcement. Contact management is also a safer method for handlers.

The response from Dr's. Golab and Miller defends the AVMA position—maintaining that the use of guides and tethers is still useful in certain situations, bearing no difference to the use of leashes, collars and harnesses to manage dogs under various circumstances.

Although not published in JAVMA, Dr. Kislak submitted a follow-up response, countering that the analogy to tethering dogs (which, in California, is restricted to a maximum of three hours) is very different than the lengthy chaining circus elephants have endured—sometimes 60-100 hours at a time. 

Kislak emphasized that tools—such as bullhooks—are inherently inhumane and should not be allowed in the care and management of elephants, especially when safer and more humane practices exist.

Read more about the letter published in JAVMA, as well as Dr. Kislak's follow-up response