Ringling Bros. Threatens To Pull Circus Out Of Oakland If Bullhook Ban Is Passed

OAKLAND CITY COUNCIL | The circus is coming to the Oakland City Council chambers later this month. An ordinance authored by Oakland Councilmember Libby Schaaf would strengthen regulations on the treatment of circus animals and the safety of spectators, but some council members want a more stringent ban on the brutal use of bullhooks on elephants. Feld Entertainment, the parent company for Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus, told Schaaf it would pull up stakes at Oakland’s Oracle Arena, if the ban is approved.

Bullhooks like these are used to control
circus elephants. Some council members
want to ban their use in Oakland.

Schaaf says her ordinance is one-year-in-the-making and “creates regulations where there were none before. We should be compassionate and treat animals with dignity, but there’s more that can be done.” The proposed ordinance heard at Tuesday’s Oakland City Council Public Safety Committee imposes greater scrutiny on the treatment of animals and the safety of patrons at events through the city’s existing special events permitting process. The Humane Society of America, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the Oakland Zoo all support the proposed ordinance. In addition, it also gives authority to the city administrator’s office and chief of police to impose additional regulations, but, some believe the proposal does not go far enough.

Councilmember Dan Kalb called the ordinance “overall, modest, but a step in the right direction.” However, he strongly indicated a preference for taking the ordinance further to include a ban on bullhooks and other implements used to forcefully control circus animals. The use of bullhooks, baton-like instruments with a small hook and spear affixed to the end, has long received the ire of animal advocacy groups, who say they inflict great pain and fear to the animals.

Councilmember Noel Gallo piggy-backed on Kalb’s assertion and also vowed support for a prohibition before directly asking Schaaf, “Why not ban the bullhook?” Although, Schaaf also registered support for the bullhook ban, she indicated a sense among her other council colleagues that sufficient support was lacking for such a ordinance. She then revealed Feld Entertainment had previously threatened to drop Oakland from its touring schedule if it banned the bullhook. “What Feld said to me is, if we passed [a bullhook ban], Ringling Bros. will not to come to Oakland.” She suggested more needs to be done to identify the economic impacts on the city and county-owned Coliseum and jobs the circus creates.

During a Nov. 25 meeting of the Coliseum Joint Powers Authority, Oakland Councilmember Larry Reid showed interest in the ramifications of Schaaf’s ordinance on business at the arena. A staff member for AEG, which operates O.co Coliseum and Oracle Arena, said Feld Entertainment and its other properties, including Disney on Ice and various supercross and monster truck exhibitions, generate $1 million in revenue for the two facilities. Staff added Feld had also indicated the stronger ordinance would force it to book the circus at San Jose’s SAP Center or the Cow Palace in Daly City. At the same meeting Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley, also a member of the Coliseum JPA, said, “We don’t want to do anything that is detrimental to our bottom line here.”

On Tuesday, Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney said there already remains a lack of family-friendly entertainment options for low-income Oakland residents, even with the circus in town. She noted Feld Entertainment often donates free circus tickets to less fortunate groups in the city.

San Jose, Sacramento and Los Angeles currently have regulations on circus performances similar to Schaaf’s proposal. However, last October, the Los Angeles City Council unanimously approved a ban on the bullhook, effective in three years. According to the Los Angeles Times, Feld Entertainment issued similar threats to move its circus out of Los Angeles County.

Gregory McConnell, an Oakland consultant hired by Feld Entertainment told the Public Safety Committee his client is amendable to the current ordinance and has worked Schaaf’s office to offer its own recommendations. “We consider this a work in progress,” McConnell said. Schaaf added Feld Entertainment has made assurances to her the circus would remain in Oakland under the current legislation.

Deniz Bolbol, an Oakland animal rights’ activists who has documented the poor treatment of performance animals and has organized several protests at Oracle Arena against the Ringling Bros., however, says the ordinance only brings city to the current regulatory standards and objected to language in the legislation asserting the proposal is a progressive one. “This is a fraud. This legislation will do nothing to help animals,” says Bolbol.” There’s nothing progressive about it.”

A version of this article also appears in the East Bay Express.

Categories: circus, Dan Kalb, elephants, Feld Entertainment, Libby Schaaf, Noel Gallo, O.co Coliseum, Oakland, Oakland City Council, Oakland committees, Oakland Zoo, Oracle Arena, PETA, Ringling Bros

14 replies

  1. Good riddance. No more torture of innocent animals!


  2. By MW:

    Ringling Brother is threatening to pull the circus out of Oakland!!!???

    Frankly, I was not aware that Ringling Brothers had the legal power to dissolve the Oakland city government. However if its does, could it also pull the circus out of Sacramento, Washington DC, and San Francisco City Hall.


  3. “This is a fraud. This legislation will do nothing to help animals,” says Bolbol.” There’s nothing progressive about it.”

    Hey, Oakland's at it again, stirring up a lot of “excitement” about something other than human beings being shot every day on the streets. Bullhooks, no–bullets you betcha.


  4. I encourage councilmember McElheny to reconsider her position on this. Animal cruelty is not a “family friendly” activity. There are numerous options for family entertainment in Oakland that are low cost or even free. The Oakland Holiday Parade this weekend is just one example.

    Prior to the unanimous vote to ban the bullhook in LA, the Los Angeles Times Editorial Board wrote, “If the circus can't come to town without bullhooks, then it shouldn't come.”



  5. Another first for Oakland: “Most Elephant-Friendly Town.”


  6. If Oakland Councilmember Libby Schaaf wants to be mayor then she should focus her efforts on serious matters instead of playing to the tiny fraction of the population who are whipped up about circus elephants.

    How about protecting the people of Oakland from cruel and deadly dangers before you spend your time on circus acts.

    Don't start looking as silly as Jean Quan


  7. Animal cruelty is a serious matter.

    A councilmember and mayor have to manage multiple priorities. Public safety is a priority as is the protection of animals. I strongly support any councilmember or candidate who can do both. This isn't an either\or, it's both\and.


  8. “Public safety is a priority as is the protection of animals.”

    As long as Oakland has, literally, a hundred priorities, hit has none. “Priority” really means attending to first things first and maybe it means just one thing or perhaps two. Many fewer than Quan/Schaaf wish to play with.


  9. Ringling trainers can't control the elephants without being able to dig the sharp bullhooks into the elephant's sensitive skin. The writing is on the wall: animal circuses have already been banned in several countries including the UK, Belgium, Greece, and Peru. Los Angeles has banned the bullhook, and Oakland can and should follow suit. If Ringling wants to get ahead of the game, they should remove endangered species like elephants (and all other animals) from their abusive spectacles, and develop a show that doesn't center on animal abuse. We can do better than animal abuse as entertainment for Oakland families.


  10. Always for the real animals.

    Not the 'animals' who are shooting and being shot. They're worthless. Life is better off with the dead punks!


  11. By MW:

    Every time the circus come to the Bay area it brings a huge collection of various wild and totally out of control animals, and then when it leaves rather than taking all of its animals with it, instead it leaves most of the very wildest and most dangerous of those animals here. And the very wildest and most out of control of those animals then move into the various city halls and then take over control of the local governments.


  12. To MW: F.U!

    Never takes anything seriously, especially innocent animals that are suffering.


  13. Will any restrictions placed on the circus also be applied up at the zoo?


  14. The Oakland Zoo's practices when it comes to elephants is actually nationally recognized for it care. No bull hooks.


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