Each year here at Freedom for Animals, we undertake a campaign to highlight the plight of live animals who are transported, caged, and distressed in order to serve as props in festive events across the country. In a world that is now increasingly able to see animals for who they are; thinking, feeling individuals with complex needs, most event organisers now heed the advice of animal welfare and animal rights organisations, and choose to have compassionate, animal-free celebrations. However, there are still a handful of events that continue to exploit live animals in the likes of grottoes, parades, and displays. We have invited some of the best respected animal charities in the UK to join together and speak up as one, to call for a complete end to the use of live animals in festive events.

Founded in 1977, Animal Aid is one of the UK’s most established animal rights organisations. They campaign on a wide range of animal rights issues, and similar to Freedom for Animals, they also challenge the use of live animals, particularly reindeer, being used in Festive Events. Campaign Manager, Tor Bailey, recently shared the charity’s position on the subject in this quote:

Our extensive undercover investigations have revealed the shocking suffering of these gentle animals. Reindeer are not props to be paraded around and used for human entertainment. Animal Aid would urge the general public not to support events which feature live captive animals and find other more animal-friendly ways to enjoy the festive period.

Based in Surrey, the Wildlife Aid Foundation is a hands-on wildlife hospital, as well as an organisation who champions the right of wild animals to live a wild existence. At the core of their work is a strong opposition to animals being kept in captivity for any purpose, including to be used for marketing purposes for events in the run up to Christmas and beyond. We contacted them recently and they provided this statement on their stance on the use of wild animals as props:

The Wildlife Aid Foundation stands up to potential animal abuse in all its forms wherever we see it. Using animals for human entertainment is quite simply wrong, whether they be captive marine mammals forced to perform in marine parks or reindeer kept in pens and petted at Christmas events. In the 21st Century, most enlightened people no longer consider animals as objects of entertainment or decoration. It is disappointing to realise that this still happens, however. Public opinion is increasingly opposed to circuses and animal cruelty in all its forms and we call on organisations to commit to the highest standards of animal welfare and to ban the use of animals as entertainment.

OneKind is a Scottish organisation founded in 1911, and today campaigning on a broad range of animal rights issues. Its vision is one of a future in which animals are treated as individuals whose capacities and priorities are understood and respected. Eve Massie, Campaigner and Press Officer at OneKind had the following to say on the use of reindeer in festive events:

OneKind completely opposes, and campaigns against, the use of live reindeer in festive displays. Reindeer are wonderful animals that belong roaming the Arctic Tundra, yet each year they are forced into unnatural environments across the UK for the public’s brief entertainment. The many welfare issues of these displays include the transportation of the reindeer, which research have proven to be highly stressful, and stress from exposure to loud noise, bright lights and music. Reindeer are not Christmas props.

As for ourselves at Freedom for Animals, we find the use of any animals as props to be unacceptable in a modern society that considers itself fair and compassionate. The animals we see being exploited throughout the festive season have complex evolutionary needs which are fundamental to their species, and not one of those needs can be met by a supermarket foyer, a car park, or even a field in the UK.

There is nothing magical or educational about taking an animal out of their natural environment and forcing them to endure busy crowds, loud noises, and manhandling from the public. It’s cruel, unnecessary, and it needs to stop.

The opposition to the use of reindeer in festive events is so widespread that even arguably the UK’s most trusted animal welfare body, the RSPCA, has called for an end to such events. In a statement on their own website Senior Scientific Manager in wildlife Dr Ros Clubb said:

As Christmas approaches, we and other animal welfare charities are really concerned that reindeer used in festive events across the country could be suffering in silence. Reindeer are kept here in the UK year-round but we always see a spike in concerned calls about them in the build-up to Christmas, which is when they're taken out to be on displays at festive events. We understand that it must seem magical for people to see a reindeer at Christmas, but the reality is reindeer aren't easy to keep well and need specialised care. They get stressed very easily and are very susceptible to many health and welfare problems. In the wild, they're prey animals so they naturally hide their illnesses, and we're concerned many owners may not realise their reindeer, which are attending stressful, busy festive events, are poorly or be able to spot the problems until it's too late.

Charities such as these have long spoken out against these kinds of examples of animals being exploited. Freedom for Animals is just one charity that has been running an annual campaign for many years now, and we can see that the tide is turning. A huge part of our campaign involves gathering information and compiling a database of events that advertise that they will use live animals, so that we can contact them to urge them not to, and so that we can monitor the welfare of the animals involved. Not long ago that database would hold hundreds of events across the UK, but this year we are down to only dozens. It is clear that the public and businesses are recognising how harmful these kinds of events are for the animals involved in them and are choosing more compassionate options.

We now need your help to eradicate those last few dozen and see an end to this annual nightmare before Christmas once and for all.

To get involved with our campaign please see our event map showing the events we’re currently aware of that plan to exploit animals. You can contact the organisers to politely ask that they change their plans and opt for a compassionate, animal-free celebration instead.

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