ATLANTA - Circus fans are not the only people geared up for the upcoming Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey show.
A group of animal rights advocates staged a protest outside Phillips Arena on Wednesday afternoon. Protesters who believe the circus abuses animals are challenging the use of bull hook tools by circus animal trainers.
A bull hook is a training device used to train and control elephants. It’s similar to the shape of a police officer’s shield stick with a sharp steel pointed hook at one end. The bull hook is used to apply pressure to sensitive areas on the elephant’s body, causing the elephant to move from the point of discomfort.
At a central Florida elephant conservation center for retired circus elephants and their babies born into the circus breeding program, trainer Trudy Williams considers the bull hook an essential guide for the training of elephants.
“All elephants are trained with the guide. We can use it as a tactical cue if they're not paying attention or if something frightens them. I can say ‘Icky, back’ and then, I could cue her in the same spot,” Williams told Channel 2’s Linda Stouffer.
Janice Aria with the Center for Elephant Conservation admits she has seen sloppy handling before and has addressed it right away, because she is not willing to back step on a relationship that is based on trust.
“If we fracture any part of that relationship today, we humans, trainers are going to pay for that tomorrow, and we can't have that in any way. We cannot have that. That relationship has to be maintained, actually embellished every day,” Aria said.
Aria said she uses the undercover video from People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), showing backstage circus employees smacking elephants, to teach new employees what never to do.
Atlanta city officials are considering a bull hook ban.