The Roger Williams Park Zoo is under fire after activist group, In Defense of Animals (IDA) listed it as the fifth-worst zoo in the country for elephants. This is because the IDA says the zoo’s use of bullhooks by elephant trainers is cruel to the animals.
Bullhooks are long batons with a metal hook on the end and are used to train elephants. Video footage has surfaced online from several circuses of the bullhooks being used to beat the animals and harm them in order to get the elephants to do what the handler wants.
Zoo personnel at Roger Williams tell NBC 10 that the instruments are not used that way at the zoo.
"The appropriate way to use this is to guide an elephant and cue the elephant with it,” said Jenn Warmbold, the elephant manager at Roger Williams Park Zoo.
Elephant keepers use positive verbal tones and food to train the zoo's three elephants, not for performing or entertainment, but for basic handling and safe veterinary care.
"It's your brain that you're using, not [the bullhook], to outsmart an elephant," explained Warmbold.
"The guide is an approved tool used for managing elephants,” added Roger Williams Park Zoo executive director, Dr. Jeremy Goodman. “All knowledgeable groups approve this training tool and that's really what it is. If it's used properly, it doesn't cause harm to the elephants."