I’m writing about a very exciting development that will make a world of difference for captive elephants!
After more than a decade of efforts by PETA’s elephant experts and other concerned animal protection groups to push for an end to “free contact” between elephants and their human handlers—a system based on negative reinforcement, physical punishment, and domination—the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) has just adopted a new policy requiring all AZA-accredited facilities to switch to protected-contact elephant management. That means no more use of abusive bullhooks—sharp, steel-tipped weapons that resemble a fireplace poker—for any zoo that wants to be accredited by the AZA.
With your support, PETA has worked hard to end free contact between elephants and their human handlers, starting with our investigation into an incident at the El Paso Zoo in which an elephant named Sissy killed her handler. More and more facilities have already made the switch to the safer, more humane protected-contact management system. Most recently, in the wake of an elephant keeper’s death, PETA called on the Knoxville Zoo to make the switch and urged Tennessee officials to fine the facility for using free contact despite its known risks. Officials agreed and recommended $8,400 fines in connection with the death, and more importantly, the Knoxville Zoo also agreed to permanently switch to protected contact.
Over the past 20 years, human interactions with captive elephants in the U.S.—often interactions in which a keeper has beaten an elephant who has then retaliated—have resulted in 15 human deaths and more than 135 reported injuries. No deaths and only one injury (the result of disregarded protocol) have occurred at zoos that use protected contact.
The AZA’s policy calls for phase-in steps to be taken, with protected contact to be implemented no later than September 1, 2014. But it is likely that zoos will come into compliance sooner. There will be limited exceptions for some medical care, although elephants can be humanely taught to present parts of their bodies for injections and pills.
Although circuses are not AZA-accredited and thus not subject to the new policy, the AZA’s recognition of the enormous benefits of protected contact—for both elephants and people—is of huge significance in our battle to end the cruel use of bullhooks on any elephant and an important milestone in our campaign to end elephant use and abuse everywhere.
Thank you for making this all possible through your support and for helping us to continue being the strongest advocate for elephants.