Massachusetts is considering two bills that would, together, benefit both captive and wild elephants. H 418/ S 1898, introduced by Representative Lori Ehrlich and Senator Kathleen O’Connor Ives, would prohibit the use of elephants in traveling animal acts. H 419/S 450, introduced by Rep. Ehrlich and Senator Jason Lewis, would restrict trade in elephant ivory and rhino horn in the state.
Elephants in circuses and other traveling shows are often kept chained for days at a time and suffer cruel and physically violent methods of training and control. Should H 418/S 1898 pass, Massachusetts would follow other states that have enacted laws to end abuse of animals in entertainment. In 2016, California and Rhode Island banned the use of bullhooks—devices that resemble a fireplace poker with sharp metal points—to strike elephants during training. In 2017, Illinois and New York outlawed the use of elephants in traveling shows altogether, as the Massachusetts bill seeks to do. This movement away from conscripting creatures who belong in the wild for our entertainment is not limited to land animals, either: Last year, California enacted a law to phase out orca captivity in the state. (See AWI Quarterly, winter 2016.)
H 419/S 450, on the other hand, looks to protect elephants, as well as rhinoceroses, who remain in the wild. With certain exemptions, the bill would prohibit the purchase and sale of elephant ivory or rhino horn in Massachusetts. While federal law currently restricts the import, export, and interstate commerce in these wildlife products, it does not address trade that takes place solely within an individual state. For this reason, seven other states (California, Hawaii, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, and Washington) have enacted laws to restrict or ban the sale of ivory and rhino horn within their borders. At an October 3 hearing before the Massachusetts legislature’s Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture, AWI testified as to why H 419/S 450 and similar bills are needed to help reduce the demand for ivory and horn—which is having devastating impacts on elephant and rhinoceros populations in Africa and Asia.