Victory: PETA Wins Monterey Zoo Lawsuit Appeal

Challenge of Local Roadside Zoo’s Alleged Violation of State’s Bullhook Ban Can Now Proceed: Zoo Must Pay Costs

For Immediate Release:
March 3, 2023

Robin Goist 202-483-7382

Monterey, Calif.

Yesterday, a California Court of Appeal ruled in PETA’s favor that the Monterey Zoo had failed to establish that its use of canes to poke, prod, and control elephants as a stand-in for bullhooks (weapons that resemble a fireplace poker with a sharp hook on one end) somehow arises from First Amendment–protected activity. The ruling means that PETA can move forward with its lawsuit alleging that the zoo has engaged in unlawful business practices by using the canes as weapons in violation of California’s ban on bullhooks and other devices “designed to inflict pain for the purpose of training or controlling the behavior of an elephant.”

The group’s suit also alleges that the Monterey Zoo has violated California’s worker protection laws by controlling elephants via old, circus-style “free contact,” in which handlers share the same unrestricted space with elephants and use domination, force, and punishment to make them obey.

“For years, workers at this facility have physically and mentally tormented elephants by using weapons on them in apparent defiance of state law,” says PETA Foundation General Counsel Caitlin Hawks. “No other zoo in California still resorts to dangerous direct contact with elephants, and PETA can now proceed in its lawsuit to compel the Monterey Zoo to end it use of these cruel practices.”

Elephants held at the Monterey Zoo have died under questionable circumstances, including one who was euthanized after being unable to stand due to a painful joint condition and another whose death was hidden from the public but whose necropsy revealed that she had ingested a large amount of sand that blocked and ruptured her large intestine, eventually causing blood poisoning. The facility has temporarily transferred the sole remaining elephant it used for pricy public encounters and photo ops, Butch, to another facility but intends to bring him back—along with additional elephants.

This victory also means that the Monterey Zoo is no longer entitled to collect its attorneys’ fees and costs from PETA and instead now has to pay PETA’s costs on appeal.

PETA—whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to use for entertainment or abuse in any other way”—opposes speciesism, a human-supremacist worldview. For more information on PETA’s investigative newsgathering and reporting, please visit, listen to The PETA Podcast, or follow the group on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

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