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Rhode Island zoo under fire for use of bullhooks on elephants, but it says instrument doesn't harm animals

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By TONY GUGLIOTTA, WJAR

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (CIRCA via WJAR) — 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.

A bullhook is a long baton with a metal hook on the end and is 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.

Personnel at the Providence zoo told Circa partner WJAR that the instruments are not used that way at the zoo.

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Roger Williams Park Zoo in Providence, Rhode Island, is under fire for its use of bullhooks in working with its elephants. (WJAR)

"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," Warmbold said.

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Zoo personnel insist they use the bullhooks to guide and cue the elephants.

"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."

The zoo is accredited by the Association for Zoos and Aquariums and American Humane Certified, and the tool is approved by the USDA and the International Elephant Foundation.

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