The bullhook is a training device used to train and control elephants. It is also called an ankus, elephant goad, or elephant hook. The handle is made of wood, metal, or other substantial material. At one end is a sharp steel hook and poker, similar to the shape of a fireplace poker.
Both ends of the bullhook are used to inflict damage. The hook is used to apply varying degrees of pressure to sensitive spots on an elephant's body, causing the elephant to move away from the source of discomfort. When the hooked end is held, the handle can be used as a club, inducing substantial pain when the elephant is struck in areas where little tissue separates skin and bone.
An Elephant's Skin
The thickness of an elephant's skin ranges from one inch across the back and hindquarters to paper-thin around the mouth and eyes, inside the ears, and at the anus. The skin appears deceptively tough, but in reality it is so delicate that an elephant can feel the pain of an insect bite. A bullhook can easily inflict pain and injury to these areas and trainers often embed the hook in the soft tissue behind the ears, inside the ear or mouth, in and around the anus, and in tender spots under the chin and around the feet.
How the Bullhook Is Used
The bullhook is used to establish human dominance over the elephant through negative reinforcement in the form of corporal punishment. Elephants are conditioned through violent training sessions and know that refusal to obey a bullhook-wielding trainer's commands will result in severe punishment.
When pressure is applied to an elephant's sensitive areas, the elephant is reminded of the force the trainer can inflict with that device. Trainers and industry spokespersons call this "guiding" the elephant, but the reality is that the bullhook is a tool of intimidation. Furthermore, even while in view of the public, a discerning eye can notice the domineering way a trainer uses the bullhook. Using pokes and jabs, or even quickly striking the elephant, the trainer is constantly reminding the elephant who is boss.
The circus industry claims that the elephants perform tricks that they would normally perform in the wild. However, in the wild, an adult elephant would lie down in slow, gradual movements no more than once or twice per day and would not lie down and rise very quickly several times, as in a single circus show. In addition, elephants would not play with balls, do headstands, crawl, or twirl. If they were truly "guiding" an elephant to perform rapid successions of headstands, hind-leg stands, lying down, crawling, and twirling, the trainer would be carrying a soft, cotton wand, not a hard, sharp, heavy object.
Laws Governing Use of the Bullhook
No federal or state laws prohibit the use of the bullhook. Because a dispirited elephant submits to a dominant trainer toting a bullhook, circuses mislead the public with spurious claims that a bullhook is akin to a leash of a dog. If an owner of a dog were to use a bullhook to control his/her dog it would be considered animal abuse in every state.
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