Reindeers are beautiful animals native to the Artic Tundra. They are used to the quiet of the wilderness, the open space and the cool temperatures that surround them. So why, in 2020, are they still being penned in small enclosures at garden centres, theme parks and adventure parks? Reindeer are not Christmas props and these festive displays are causing a wealth of welfare issues for the animals involved.
COVID-19 restrictions and their implications on live reindeer displays
Last year, 15 venues or local authorities exhibited live reindeer Christmas displays. This year, only 4 have announced plans to go ahead, although COVID-19 restrictions have meant that 3 of these venues have had to temporarily close until December 11th and 2 of these venues had not begun exhibiting reindeer yet. This is excellent news for the reindeer, as less will be subjected to suffering this festive season. Some reindeer will still suffer this year, though, and that’s why we are urging you to read the animal welfare issues associated with these displays and #BoycottReindeerDisplays.
Captivity of reindeer
Reindeer do not belong in a life of captivity and it is very difficult to ensure that their needs are met.
When asked about live reindeer displays, the RSPCA, who also do not support these displays, commented:
“These are semi-wild animals that are highly adapted to the arctic environment. They have very different needs to deer that are native to the UK and it is much more difficult to meet their needs, particularly when kept by non-specialists in small groups for use at festive events.”
Research conducted by the Veterinary Laboratories Agency also concluded that a poor diet and the stress from being removed from natural habitats lead to a high mortality rate in captive reindeer. Indeed, Dr John Fletcher, founder of the Veterinary Reindeer Society, has stated that reindeer are not able to copy with the stress of captivity, and that most diseases seen in reindeer in the UK are stress-related.
Stressful journeys to the displays
It is not surprising that the transportation of reindeer to Christmas displays is a stressful experience for the animals. A 1997 study found that deer find journeys stressful, with journeys more than 2 hours long, and journeys that involve winding roads, being particularly stressful to deer. The study concluded that for this reason, journeys should be kept to a maximum of 2 hours, as deer experience increasing stress from transportation as the journey length increases.
Associated welfare issues during the displays
During the live reindeer displays, reindeer will be kept restrained to a holding pen. The public, including children, may then be encouraged to pet the animals and take photographs with them. For some displays, usually those hosted by local authorities, the reindeers will be forced to pull a sleigh with a ‘Santa’ and child down the busy high street.
Reindeer will also be exposed to loud noises, bright lights and music. An environment that is a far cry from the Artic Tundra.
These displays have wide-ranging welfare implications for the deer, including poor muscle development, weight loss, diarrhoea and antler malformation. Exhibiting live reindeer for festive celebrations also suggests that animals are not sentient beings, but rather are props to be used for our entertainment.
Exhibiting of stress after the displays
As prey animals, reindeer are very good at hiding their stress, and problems related to these stressful Christmas environments may not manifest until some time after the event.
How can I help?
Please share our ‘Reindeer are not Christmas props’ video to raise awareness of the cruelty of live reindeer displays.