California Governor Brown signs law banning use of bullhooks on elephants

(Reuters) - California Governor Jerry Brown on Monday signed into law a measure that bans the use of bullhooks and other devices to control elephants, the latest victory for animal rights activists who condemn the practice.

California Governor Jerry Brown leaves the stage at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 27, 2016. REUTERS/Scott Audette

Brown’s action comes a month after Rhode Island became the first U.S. state to ban the use of a bullhook, a device that resembles a fireplace poker, on elephants and cities such as Los Angeles and Oakland passing similar measures amid public pressure calling for more humane treatment of wild animals used in entertainment.

“California has once again demonstrated its commitment to animal protection. This bill aligns the state’s policies with the values of its residents,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, in a statement.

Trainers and handlers who break the California law, which goes into effect in 2018, faces a fine up to $10,000 and revocation of the their permit.

Brown vetoed a similar bill in 2015 because it created a new crime instead of levying civil penalties and revocation of permits, legislative documents showed.

The law also prohibits brandishing, exhibiting or displaying bullhooks and other devices such as a baseball bat, axe handle or pitchfork in the presence of an elephant, according to legislative documents.

The American Association of Zoo Veterinarians said in a letter to California lawmakers in March that while it supported a ban on the use of devices to inflict pain, it opposed the legislation on the grounds that devices are used to communicate with elephants.

“By removing the elephant guide, the State of California would be removing an essential safety and welfare tool for a large and potentially dangerous animal,” the organization said.

Industry standards have changed over the last few years making the use of a bullhook and other devices obsolete, according to legislative documents that noted elephant rides are no longer available at county fairs in California.

Reflecting a shift in U.S. attitudes toward animal entertainment, Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus ended its uses of elephants in its shows in April after a 145 years.

In March, SeaWorld said it would stop breeding killer whales in captivity, but would still put on performances with orcas at its marine parks in San Diego, Orlando and San Antonio. That could change in California, where lawmakers passed a bill on Friday, sending the measure to Brown for his signature.

Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Nick Macfie