Baby elephant Gabi and his mother Tamar at the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo, 2007 (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Atlanta City Council members representing Buckhead are debating whether recently enacted protections for circus elephants go far enough.

On June 18, the council voted 13-1 to pass an amendment introduced by District 8 Councilwoman Yolanda Adrean.  The amendment makes it illegal “for any person to engage in abusive behavior toward an elephant and use of any instrument to discipline the elephant.”

That includes withholding food and water, electric shocks, physical punishment that scars or breaks skin and “insertion of any instrument into any bodily orifice.”

District 9 Councilwoman Felicia Moore, the only no vote, said the ordinance doesn’t address the real problem: bullhooks.

“I think what it is, the amendment made people feel like they were doing something without really doing anything,” Moore said.

Atlanta Coucnilwoman Felicia Moore, District 9.

Bullhooks are a long cane with a hook on the end used to goad show elephants. Adrean’s amendment doesn’t specifically ban them.

They are the subject of videos produced by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. The videos persuaded the council to consider the new restrictions, and follow a recent ban enacted by Fulton County.

Council members also received 13,000 emails from people lobbying for the ban, Adrean said.

The city is working in partnership with Fulton County for animal control services.

“We were about to enter our memorandum of understanding [with Fulton County] on July 1,” Adrean said. “It says the city ordinances control city practices we wanted to make sure we were clear on our position about bullhooks.”

Moore said the ordinance isn’t clear enough. She is asking the council to consider her own legislation which specifically bans bullhooks. She introduced it at the June 18 meeting, but the council rejected it in an 11-3 vote.

Moore said Adrean’s amendment is unenforceable.

“If it was an amendment that really forced trying to do anything about how they were treated, you would’ve had some objection from the circus people,” Moore said. “Just by virtue of the fact they have not said a mumbling word, they’ve been in full support of this.”

Adrean said banning bullhooks specifically would have left the door open for other forms of cruelty.

Yolanda Adrean

District 8 Atlanta City Councilwoman Yolanda Adrean

“My issue is if you ban bullhooks, you can use a whip, you can use all kinds of stuff to control an animal,” Adrean said. “It seems to me if the issue is cruelty then the ordinance should speak to cruelty, not one specific instrument.”

District 7 Councilman Howard Shook said he did extensive research before voting for Adrean’s amendment.

Shook said the bullhooks have different uses.

“It can be as mild as a tap with the rounded end, to show an elephant where to go, or you can use the pointy end with increasing degrees of vigor,” Shook said. “PETA and others believe that is by definition abusive, and, in fairness, there is very disturbing footage that one can view on YouTube.”

Adrean, who called the films “awful,” said she personally opposes using any wild animals in circuses.

“It’s unnatural to ask a tiger to go through a ring of flames and it’s unnatural to ask an elephant to stand on its head,” Adrean said.

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