The Christmas holiday season is well upon us which means Santa and his reindeer have been making appearances at festive events in parades, shopping centres and garden centres across the country for the past few weeks.
We understand that these events can be very popular, but we also think it’s important that we start talking about how ethical the practice of using reindeer in this way actually is. Should we really be using reindeer as “props” inside bright and noisy shopping centres? Or making them pull Santa’s sleigh through a crowded town centre purely for entertainment? OneKind certainly doesn’t think so.
Wild reindeer will live out their lives in the Arctic tundra where they are free to roam for hundreds of miles and perform their natural behaviours. The Cairngorm Reindeer Herd is Britain’s only free-ranging herd of reindeer in the UK, while others are kept on farms and in animal collections. And at Christmas time each year, a number of these sentient animals are used for entertainment, being paraded up high street or standing in makeshift “petting areas” in shopping centres or car parks. These environments are also very noisy and often involve lots of flash photography as people have their photo taken with a reindeer. This, along with the transportation of the animals to the events, is very different from their natural lifestyle and questions are increasingly being asked about their welfare.
The companies around the UK that supply reindeer for Christmas parades and attractions offer various packages including static displays, petting pens and a reindeer-drawn sleigh carrying Santa. One company also offers a 20-minute private home visit with a static Santa sleigh parked at the house and a reindeer present.
Over the past few weeks, OneKind supporters and members have been visiting Christmas events with live reindeer displays to help us better our understanding of what kind of events reindeer are being used for across Scotland.
While there were no reindeer included in Edinburgh’s council-run Christmas events, reindeer from the Cairngorm company were transported to the Gyle Shopping Centre in Edinburgh where they paraded with Santa, his sleigh sandwiched between a DJ stage and a loud band with dancers. In our video footage you can see one of the reindeer seems to react when the band passes very close to the animals as Santa is being interviewed by the presenter from the main stage.
In this second video taken in the petting pen, one of the reindeer workers can be heard saying “tonight, they go back to the mountains.”
While that might have been the case with this group of reindeer, some events will have reindeer there throughout the whole of December. In fact, the Simpson’s Garden Centre in Inverness first posted this photo of reindeer on its Facebook page stating that they’d be there until Christmas Eve.
In Aberdeen, Cairngorm reindeer took part in the Trinity Centre’s annual Santa and reindeer parade. Once they had pulled Santa’s sleigh down Union Street, the animals were taken inside the shopping centre where they remained for almost 3 hours. One of our supporters who was at the event expressed her worries “In my view, what concerned me the most was the long interval that the reindeer spent within the bleak enclosure at the Trinity Centre. The animals just stood passively the whole time, with nothing to do or to engage their interest.”
Reindeer on a double yellow line at Kirkcaldy’s Christmas parade.
OneKind has long-objected to the use of live reindeer in public celebrations and static displays during the festive season – yet their use still seems to be increasing. This year, we identified 21 event organisers that were using live reindeer. We contacted them to set out the wider welfare concerns regarding the use of reindeer as entertainment and asked them to review their policy for next year. Four organisers responded (three of these were local authorities) and, while taking our concerns on board, were confident that the welfare of the reindeer was satisfactorily protected.
While we are still reviewing our evidence, the lack of response to our concerns and the wide variations in the keeping and use of reindeer lead us to believe that – at the very least – consistent standards need to be provided for these animals. OneKind is calling on the Scottish Government to progress its proposals for further regulation of the use of animals in displays and exhibitions and to issue guidance on their welfare.
We also believe that if organisers – particularly local authorities – decide against using live reindeer in future and make their policies well known in advance of Christmas 2019, this would deter companies from organising future events like we’ve seen this year. It has already been shown that communities in Scotland can organise amazing Christmas shows and they can be enjoyed without the use of sentient animals for entertainment.