10/28/2013 06:37 pm ET Updated Dec 28, 2013

Protecting Circus Elephants

Circuses that use wild animals should be a thing of the past and I applaud any steps to alleviate the suffering of animals under the big top.

So I was pleased to learn that the Los Angeles City Council took action to ban bullhooks and any devices designed to inflict pain for the purpose of training and controlling the behavior of elephants used in circuses. This action makes Los Angeles the largest city in the country to prohibit such inhumane treatment of elephants. It could also signal the end of elephants in circuses visiting Los Angeles.

Bullhooks resemble fireplace pokers. With a long handle, sharp metal hook and spiked tip, the bullhook is designed to inflict pain, suffering and fear in elephants. In 2010, a judge ordered the Los Angeles Zoo to stop using bullhooks on its elephants. The Oakland Zoo was one of the first to pioneer the use of protected contact on elephants more than 20 years ago. Protected contact is now widely used as a training method that relies solely on positive reinforcement.

This new legislation sheds light on just one inhumane activity practiced by circuses. Wild animals in a circus are kept in small cages. They are cared for by workers, who have little to no experience monitoring them for illnesses or injuries. Animals are routinely hit, poked, prodded and shocked so that they will perform on command. If they are too ill to perform, they often are forced to continue as the show must go on.

In a statement praising the Los Angeles City Council, Jennifer Fearing, California senior state director for the Humane Society of the United States, said: "Devices that cause pain and suffering have no place in the handling of captive elephants. We commend the Los Angeles City Council for taking steps to protect these highly intelligent and social animals from inhumane and outdated training methods."

What message are we sending to our children if we take them to a circus featuring live wild animals? Observing tigers jumping through flaming hoops or watching elephants balancing on balls sends the wrong message as this is not behavior we would find in the wild. These animals do not perform because they want to, but because they are severely punished if they don't. Circuses play no role in animal conservation. They exist purely for entertainment and profit.

Take your children to see Cirque du Soleil or other animal-free circuses instead of circuses that use wild animals. Let your city council know that you won't tolerate the mistreatment of animals in circuses and ask them to take steps to ban bullhooks and other similar devices that inflict pain and suffering to the animals. Legislation is the best means that we have to protect these animals from harm.