Every year as we approach Christmas we come across more and more events featuring live reindeer, made to pull a sleigh, parade in groups or stand in barren pens in city centres.

Tilly Smith, manager of the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre who keep the only free-ranging herd of reindeer in the UK, has spoken against the importation of reindeer to the UK stating that they are not suited to a life in captivity and suffer in the British climate.

She has called for DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) to stop the importation of reindeer to the UK especially as they end up in unsuitable places, something which we wholeheartedly agree with at Freedom for Animals. She told The Telegraph,

“Defra does not have a handle on where these reindeer go. Once they arrive into this country, they just vanish into the ether….They go to inappropriate places: people running Christmas fairs, people with smallholdings. They may even be kept in a shed. That’s a long way from the tundra.”

Tilly pointed out many of the concerns we have about the keeping of reindeer in the UK and the use of these animals in Christmas events, shockingly stating that these animals can die as a result. 

“Because they have fattened up and lived well in the summer before coming to Britain in November-time, they tend to survive through the winter. But when it comes to spring again they get thinner and thinner, and they can die.”

If you add in the added stress of being made to travel miles to festive events around the country, being held in barren pens surrounded by people and noise, the risk to these animals seems extremely high. We have seen a rise in the number of events like these taking place using reindeer and other live animals.

Worryingly, recent figures reportedly show that the importation of reindeer has increased perhaps as result of the use of the animals in Christmas “Winter Wonderland” type events.

Reindeer stressed in captivity

Dr John Fletcher, founder president of the Veterinary Deer Society, said

“A lot of people see pound signs, thinking they can get a lot of money taking them round department stores at Christmas and that sort of thing.

Reindeer have adapted to live in the Arctic. They are not well able to cope with the stress of captivity, and most of the diseases we see here in reindeer are stress-related.”

Ironically the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre themselves are a supplier of reindeer for these events and have a website dedicated to promoting their business. Whilst Tilly Smith accepts that the British climate is not suitable for reindeer and is leaving them underweight and ill, her concern for their welfare does not seem to extend to reindeer used at Christmas events.

Every year the Cairngorm Reindeer will travel around the U.K attending busy town centres where they will pull sleighs and stand in pens to please intrigued crowds. According to their website they only choose reindeer who are ‘relaxed and comfortable even in busy public situations’.

We don’t believe it is possible for a reindeer who has very specific needs to be happy in a busy town centre environment surrounded by crowds, loud noises and bright lights.

Let’s extend the Christmas spirit to all animals and choose cruelty-free alternatives. 

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