Feld Entertainment did not respond to The Dodo's request for comment.
Not all sanctuaries use bullhooks to control their elephants, and many animal advocates hope that Ringling will phase them out, too. At the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, the country's largest natural habitat refuge for elephants, a technique called "protected contact" is used to control the animals while allowing them to make decisions on their own. There is always a barrier between caretakers and elephants.
"I don't think that using bullhooks should be an option," Margaret Whittaker, the sanctuary's director of elephant care, told The Dodo. "Everybody should be doing protected contact."
She applauded Ringling's move, but said that it needed to add to the Florida facility to accommodate all the incoming elephants. And she also noted that the sanctuary, a chunk of land in the middle of Tennessee with just 13 elephants roaming around it, is always accepting new residents. Asian elephants at the sanctuary have 2,000 acres all to themselves.