A shopping centre in Kent came under fire for featuring a wild animal performance where a raccoon was dressed up in a bow tie and forced to ride a bicycle, to amuse the shopping centre’s customers.

Following strong criticism from animal welfare organisations and the public, the shopping centre apologised. These sorts of publicity stunts will always attract strong reactions because they showcase exactly the same degrading and exploitative acts  we see in circuses. Acts which will soon be prohibited when the ban on the use of wild animals in circuses is introduced in this country; a move supported by the public, parliamentarians and experts.

But, despite the opposition to wild animal performances, parents up and down the country will still take their children to one of the many live reindeer parades held in town centres or shopping precincts around the UK in the run up to Christmas.

Reindeer in the circus

What many parents will not know is that the reindeer that spend days in small pens in shopping centres as part of Santa’s Grottos might be the very same animals that so many have fought so hard to see spared a life in the big top. For example, Peter Jolly’s Circus, which used big cats in its circus shows, also runs a “reindeer for hire” business. 

Even those reindeer supplied by companies other than circuses are used in similar situations as those exploited in the big top. Brightly-lit shopping centres, noisy crowds, being used as photo props and travelling long distances are all part and parcel of the use of live animals in Christmas events and all have the potential to put animal welfare at risk.

In previous years reindeer have been transported as far as Scotland to Cornwall, a journey of around 1,300 miles to join a Christmas parade. Is our need to be entertained worth such a long and stressful journey for animals to endure? 

We are delighted that wild animal circuses are finally banned but deeply saddened that the use of animals in festive events is on the rise. For the animals, there it makes little difference what these events are called - they are still being exploited. 

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