Animal Law Review

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In the United States, violent use of “bullhooks”—sharpened, steel-tipped rods—on captive elephants at carnivals, circuses, and zoos is all too routine. Yet animal-welfare advocates struggle to protect elephants from the (mis)use of bullhooks under the current regulatory regime. At the federal level, advocates cannot consistently rely on either the Animal Welfare Act or the Endangered Species Act, due to these statutes’ narrow provisions, standing limitations, and inconsistent enforcement. State animal-protection laws are equally deficient, as only two states have defined suffering and abuse clearly enough in their statutes to enable effective prosecution of elephant mistreatment, and plaintiffs in even these states frequently fail for lack of standing. Ultimately, the most effective solution to the problem of bullhooks may lie with local lawmaking authorities. Many counties and municipalities have begun to protect captive elephants by enacting ordinances that expressly ban these devices within their jurisdictions. These local laws, which are growing increasingly popular, could offer the most effective protections against elephant abuse to date.

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