With the festive season growing ever smaller in our rear view mirrors, we want to take the chance to reflect on 2023’s festive events campaign. This campaign has been running for several years, always with the aim to raise awareness of the suffering that animals used for displays and parades are subjected to, and, if possible, intervene to stop such exploitation from taking place.

We have always campaigned on behalf of all animals that might be used as props and attractions at Christmas, from donkeys, to camels, and guinea pigs to birds of prey. However the most commonly exploited animal this time of year is the gentle and sensitive reindeer. This year out of 165 events we monitored that used live animals, reindeer were the victims of 130 events.

We campaign against mobile animal exhibits abusing any species 365 days a year, but it’s become clear to us that during the festive season it’s reindeer who need our voices and our help the most. So, this year we particularly focussed our efforts on these vulnerable animals, who are transported all around the country and subjected to cramped transit conditions, busy crowds, and loud noises, and even forced into the labour of pulling sleighs. To maximise our effect we joined forces with other charities who share our goal of ending the reindeer rental business for good. 

Our main allies in 2023 were OneKind, Animal Aid, and Born Free Foundation. OneKind kicked off the festive season with a bang with the release of a new report, ‘The Welfare Needs of Captive Reindeer Used for Entertainment Events in the UK: a review' by Dr Tayla Hammond. The report is a literature review that assesses what existing independent research says about the effect of events on reindeer used for them - it concludes that reindeer use in festive events should be ceased due to the incredibly strong evidence that the practice is damaging to reindeer health and wellbeing.

After the publication of this report, our mission became to get it in front of the right people - the people who have the power to decide to heed its warning and not hire live reindeer for their events. We began this with a letter writing campaign. A joint letter was produced by the four charities, and signed by seven more, urging the recipients to opt for compassionate, animal-free events in 2023 and beyond. We first wrote to known event organisers who have hired live reindeer in the past, drawing their attention to the strong evidence that doing so is likely to cause harm to the animals. We also appealed to our supporters to report reindeer events to us so we could send the same information to them. This continued throughout the festive season, over the course of which we sent 219 letters to events. 

As ever, our campaign couldn’t have happened without you, our fantastic supporters! We created an interactive map allowing you to see events near you that had hired live reindeer, alongside the organisers’ contact details so that you were able to contact them directly and complain as a member of their local community. Organisers received in the region of 1,000 emails from Freedom for Animals supporters alone, and by the time the bells rang for Christmas Day three events had cancelled their planned use of live reindeer!

Action did not just take place at the keyboard - activists took to the streets with newly produced FFA leaflets to spread the word to the public about the hidden cost of reindeer exploitation. We also had investigators attending events, posing as members of the public, to monitor conditions and collect evidence. These undercover operations allow us to see what happens when the handlers don’t think they’re being observed, and what we found was at best a cruel indifference to reindeer’s wellbeing, and at worst outright abuse. 

Investigators attending Mayfair’s Christmas Market, London, measured decibel levels and recorded video evidence. We showed this to a qualified veterinarian who identified a very loud environment, a small and barren enclosure, a reindeer with an apparent hind limb injury, and an overall stressful experience. You can read more and see the video evidence in our news article.

Another investigator went to Waltham Abbey’s Christmas Market where they saw animal hire company Performing Pets Ltd subjecting reindeer to a clearly distressing ordeal. After announcing to the assembled crowd that the reindeer “have no idea why we’re doing this” - admitting that the experience is confusing and disorientating for them - the business owner Desmond Jordan shoves a scared reindeer up to the fencing to allow the onlookers to touch her.

If your browser settings are preventing the embedded video from showing, you can watch it on YouTube here.

This season also saw two of Majestic Reindeer’s captives make the news as they fled an event at the Elveden Estate in Suffolk. They risked serious harm as they made their way onto the A11 and stopped traffic, and weren’t recovered until the next day. We can see with our own eyes that reindeer do not want to be used in events. They try to flee, they resist human contact, they “have no idea why we’re doing this”. It’s time to end this industry.

We will end this industry. In 2024 we intend to continue to spread the word about the suffering animals suffer in mobile events. Our festive events campaign ties directly into our mobile zoo campaign, which will see huge steps forward in the coming months. We will use new evidence to continue to call for an end to cramming animals into vans and trucks, carting them around the country, and displaying them for the public to stare at and grab. 

We want to extend a huge thanks to everyone who contributed to the festive events campaign 2023, our partners at OneKind, Animal Aid, and Born Free, our investigators, and our fantastic supporters. A review of the data from this year shows that we are making huge progress. 44 events that we know to have used live animals between 2018-2022 confirmed directly to us that they were animal-free in 2023. In addition to this 109 events that we know to have used live animals between 2018-2022 didn't directly confirm themselves animal-free this year, but also didn't advertise animal use or have any evidence of animal use in photos published of the event. That's 153 recent animal exploiters that we can be confident have made the move to animal-free events since 2018!

Amongst these events, 31 that both used reindeer and received our letter last year were animal-free this year. It’s working, the world is listening, and you can be part of the change.

Help us fight for animal freedom HERE!