Gary Johnson of Have Trunk Will Travel, which provides
elephants for movies, uses a guide as a cue to allow Dr. Jerry Rutz
to take radiographs of this elephant's tusks. The young male
elephant has brittle tusks that easily splinter, so dentists created
metal caps for him to wear.
A new AVMA policy describes the appropriate use of guides and tethers as training and management tools for elephants—and condemns abusive handling.
On a few occasions, allegations of elephant mishandling have implicated misuse of guides and tethers, leading groups to push for prohibition of these tools. An AVMA member requested that the Association adopt a policy to assist in retaining access to these tools to protect the health and safety of elephants and humans.
Appropriate use of elephant guides and tethers allows handlers to safely perform procedures such as foot care, checks of reproductive status, and tuberculosis testing.
The Executive Board approved the policy on "Elephant guides and tethers" at its April meeting. The policy is consistent with the Department of Agriculture's expectations for use of elephant guides and tethers in zoos, circuses, exhibitions, and other activities covered under the Animal Welfare Act.
The AVMA policy states the following:
ELEPHANT GUIDES AND TETHERS
Elephant guides are husbandry tools that consist of a shaft capped by one straight and one curved end. The ends are blunt and tapered, and are used to touch parts of the elephant's body as a cue to elicit specific actions or behaviors, with the handler exerting very little pressure. The ends should contact, but should not tear or penetrate the skin. The AVMA condemns the use of guides to puncture, lacerate, strike or inflict harm upon an elephant.
Tethers provide a means to temporarily limit an elephant's movement for elephant or human safety and well-being. Tethers can be constructed of rope, chain, or nylon webbing, and their use and fit should not result in discomfort or skin injury. Forelimb tethers should be loose on the foot below the ankle joint, and hind limb tethers should fit snugly on the limb between the ankle and knee joints. Tether length should be sufficient to allow the elephant to easily lie down and rise. The AVMA only supports the use of tethers for the shortest time required for specific management purposes.
A backgrounder on "Welfare implications of elephant training" is available at www.avma.org by clicking on "Animal welfare," then on "Backgrounders."