Source: Craig Morrison/

“Outdated” Bullhooks To Be Retired from Accredited US Zoos

by | August 22, 2019

The bullhook — a sharp tool used to control elephants — is now being recognized as unnecessary, and banned at accredited US zoos nationwide.

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) board recently voted to start a phase out of the instrument — also known as an ankus or goad — by 2021. It suspects that bullhooks will be completely retired by 2023, with the only exceptions being emergencies and non-routine medical care.

Dan Ashe, president and CEO of the association, said in an interview that given the bullhook’s “historical association with archaic, abusive treatment of elephants, the board decided this was a good step.”

He added, however, that nearly 80 percent of the 62 AZA zoos said they do not use the instruments and that the changes would have little or no impact on their sites.

Otto Fad, an animal behaviorist who rid Busch Gardens Tampa Bay of bullhooks when he was hired there in 2004 spoke out in favor of the move.

“This is a great decision by the board,” he said.

“I think it took some guts knowing what resistance they were going to face doing this.”

A bullhook (Source: Alexlky/

Criticism Of Bullhooks

Animal protection organizations have spoken out against the instruments on multiple occasions.

Rachel Mathews, deputy director of captive animal law enforcement at the PETA Foundation called the AZA’s decision “a long-overdue move to protect elephants from a weapon whose only purpose is to inflict pain or evoke the fear of pain.”

Nicole Paquette, chief programs and policy officer at the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) called the instrument an “outdated, circus-style training tool that resembles a fireplace poker and is used to inflict pain and punishment on elephants.”

Baby Elephant
Elephants form close familiar bonds (Source: John Michael Vosloo/

Zoos & Animal Protection

While many zoos frame themselves as centers of rehabilitation and protection, profit margins make crowd-pleasing animals a top priority, and hurts the quality of life for animals which inhabit them.

Beyond this, the offspring of zoo animals are separated from their parents and sold off, sometimes split between multiple locations, as space becomes inadequate for them after they reach a certain age. 

Do you think zoos should start taking in local endangered wildlife? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.


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