People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, PETA, filed a petition March 24 asking OSHA to enact a regulation prohibiting direct physical contact between employees and elephants in any type of business where elephants are in captivity — zoos, circuses, etc. Submitted by Delcianna Winders, PETA’s director of Captive Animal Law Enforcement, the petition asks OSHA to promulgate a regulation, issue enforcement guidance saying direct contact is prohibited under the General Duty Clause, and ask a Washington, D.C. federal court to immediately require a protective barrier for all contact with elephants.
The organization said it acted on the same day that the Knoxville (Tenn.) Zoo announced it will switch to “protected contact” after an elephant handler was killed in January. Winders’ petition — it fills 240 pages including appendices, exhibits, and other documents — contains extensive information about protected contact and lists many incidents in which elephant handlers in direct-contact situations have been injured or killed in the United States in recent years.
The petition notes that being an elephant handler is an extremely dangerous job, with a fatality rate above commercial fishing and far higher than the rate for typical workers, according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics report issued in 1997.
“In contrast to free contact, protected contact (or ‘PC’) relies on positive reinforcement and all interactions occur through a protective barrier, such as a fence or cage,” the petition states. “As defined by one of its creators, Protected contact is a system for managing elephants that uses positive reinforcement training as the primary method to modify behavior and gain the voluntary cooperation of the animal. Physical punishment is prohibited.
Directing the positioning and movement of the elephant and shaping behavior is achieved through the use of targets. Keeper safety is achieved by elephant and keeper positioning relative to each other and to a barrier, which typically separates human and animal spaces. Trainers function outside the elephant social hierarchy and do not attempt to establish a position of social dominance.”