RSPCA calls for reindeer at Christmas grottos to be banned

Charity claims animals experience high levels of stress and anxiety

Sarah Young
Wednesday 18 December 2019 11:32 GMT

Reindeer should not be used at Santa's grottos because they get too stressed, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) has warned.

During the festive period, people across the country plan to visit Christmas attractions at local fairs and shopping centres, many of which keep herds of reindeers onsite.

According to the RSPCA, there are an estimated 1,500 live reindeer used in festive attractions in the UK alone, and it might seem like an innocent treat, the charity claims the practice can lead to the animals feeling stressed, becoming unwell and losing weight.

The organisation states that reindeers are often kept in small pens which makes them anxious and can lead to a number of health problems such as misshapen antlers, low fertility and high calf mortality.

“We understand that it must seem magical for people to see a reindeer at Christmas, but the reality is reindeer are not easy to keep well and need specialised care, they get stressed very easily and are very susceptible to many health and welfare problems,” said Dr Ros Clubb, senior scientific manager at the RSPCA.

“In the wild they are 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 may not be able to spot the problems until it is too late.”

The expert added that the stress experienced by reindeers who are imported from other countries can leave them vulnerable to disease, adding that “they are not suited to being kept in very small groups in confined spaces”.

“There’s also a concern that those keeping small numbers of reindeer on smallholdings to make money from them at seasonal events are unlikely to have the specialist knowledge needed to care for these animals properly,” Clubb explained.

The RSPCA isn’t the only animal rights organisation to weigh in on the topic, with Animal Aid and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) calling for boycotts on events that “treat animals like Christmas decorations”.

“What could ruin the magic of the season more than seeing stressed animals confined to cramped pens, tied up, or harnessed and forced to pull people around on sleighs?” said Elisa Allen, director at PETA.

“Reindeer are intelligent, gentle animals who are meant to roam free over vast ranges – not be carted up and down the country as if they were mere props to be paraded about and gawked at under in busy shopping centres.”

Tor Bailey, a campaigner at Animal Aid, agreed, adding that there are “plenty more imaginative ways to spread Christmas cheer, without causing harm to live animals”.

“Children don’t have to miss out on any of the fun. Let’s extend the season to all, including animals,” she said.

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