Like cities across the country, Oakland recently adopted restrictions aimed at improving the treatment of circus animals — part of a growing backlash that has finally pressured circuses to enact reforms. Today, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus announced
plans to phase out elephants from its performances by 2018 in a move that animal rights activists across the country say is long overdue.
The debate in the East Bay has centered on concerns about the poor treatment of animals in Oakland's Oracle Arena where the Ringling Bros. has produced shows.
After San Jose, Sacramento, and Los Angeles passed regulations
designed to protect circus animals, Oakland adopted new circus safety rules
last year. Those regulations included a ban by 2017 on bullhooks, which are the sharp instruments
with a metal point and hook that circuses use to control elephants and which critics say clearly lead to cruel treatment. In the wake of city laws prohibiting bullhooks, Feld Entertainment, the parent company of Ringling Bros., threatened
to pull the circus from those locations, raising concerns in Oakland about the potential financial impact on the Coliseum. After heated public meetings
and intense debate, the city council eventually passed a compromise that delayed the ban until 2017, instead of instituting immediate restrictions.
“I am proud that proactive leadership from cities like Oakland means elephants being forced to perform in the nation’s largest circus will soon come to an end,” Mayor Libby Schaaf said in a statement today. “There is still more work to be done to ensure the safety and protection of all animals, but by presenting legislation where there had previously been none, Oakland has helped us take a big step forward in how we care for and treat these majestic animals.” As a councilmember, Schaaf had first introduced legislation to increase circus regulations in 2013.
The mayor's office also praised the Oakland Zoo today, calling the organization a "national pioneer in elephant welfare, helping to revolutionize the care treatment of elephants in captivity." The zoo, which supported Oakland's bullhook ordinance, has also backed wider efforts to ban the sale of ivory and has funded anti-poaching programs.
Jeff Kinzley, elephant manager at the Oakland Zoo, released this statement today:
Today’s announcement regarding elephants being phased out of the Ringling Brothers Circus is a huge victory for elephants/ This fall we as an organization spoke out against the use of bullhooks on elephants, and we were extremely happy when the City of Oakland banned bullhooks from our city. Oakland Zoo has always strived to be a leader in humane care of elephants and discontinued the use of bullhooks in 1991. We then adopted a management style we feel is better for elephants, called Protected Contact, where zookeepers manage elephants through barriers using operant conditioning with positive reinforcement. With this style of management, there is never a need for a zookeeper to show dominance or inflict pain on the animals.
For more on the decision from Ringling Bros., check out coverage from the Associated Press
, which cited the restrictions in Oakland as part of the growing efforts nationwide to push for reforms.