Every year at Freedom for Animals we campaign for festive events such as Santa’s Grottoes, parades, and Christmas lights switch-ons not to use live animals as props and attractions. A wide range of species are exploited in this way at Christmas, but the animal we see used the most is reindeer.

Today sees the publication of a new report, ‘The Welfare Needs of Captive Reindeer Used for Entertainment Events in the UK: a review' written by Dr Tayla Hammond and commissioned by our colleagues at OneKind, that 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.

The report is the conclusion of a comprehensive literature review, and uses a scientific approach to assess the effect of festive events on reindeer using the Five Domains Model. This model applies four physical domains (nutrition, physical environment, health and behavioural interactions) to the fifth domain: the animal’s subjective mental state. This ultimately determines the overall welfare state of the animal in question. Using this approach, the report concludes that the following stressors, which are inherent in festive events, are very likely to damage reindeer welfare:

  • Unnatural environments - Reindeer are native to arctic tundra, not shopping centres or town squares. Strange environments are difficult for reindeer to cope with.

  • Lack of agency - Reindeer used in festive events are unable to act upon their own will.

  • Unrelenting Stressors - Consistent exposure to chaotic environments from which there is no escape may lead to the development of learned helplessness (a psychological condition which is associated with depression in humans and a wide range of non-human animals, including horses and sheep). 

  • Constant, unfamiliar and unpredictable interaction  - Human interactions such as petting and feeding can cause sustained stress.

  • Perceived threats in event environments - Reindeer are prey animals in the wild, and may interpret human event attendees or loud noises as threats to their lives. Unable to escape due to being penned in or tethered, these environments will produce a fear reaction that they cannot control or relieve. 

  • Long distance travel - Reindeer used for events often have to travel many miles a day. The repetitive and restrictive transport environments can cause physical and mental fatigue.

  • Restrictions on performing natural behaviours - Reindeer have basic needs such as being able to frequently consume forage. These needs cannot be met by the event environment leading to stress.

All of the above elements of festive events have the potential to significantly harm reindeer welfare. The frequent and sustained exposure to stress has a physical effect on the body in reindeer, just as it does in humans and other species, and can compromise immune function leading to disease and infection. It is wrong to expose these animals to such risks simply to entertain a crowd for a short time. It’s time that reindeer use in festive events was consigned to history, and we hope this report helps to demonstrate to event organisers that they should choose compassionate, animal-free entertainment instead.


Christmas may seem a long way off today, but at Freedom for Animals work is already underway to prevent as much suffering as we can this festive season. We are writing to hundreds of event organisers and public and private bodies to encourage them not to exploit live animals this year. You can help!

Report any event that you come across that plans to exploit live animals to us

Support our work to end the use of live animals for entertainment