A new report published today, outlines the welfare issues of the use of reindeer in entertainment events and ultimately concludes that their use in such events be ceased. 

Reindeer pulling Santa

The Welfare Needs of Captive Reindeer Used for Entertainment Events in the UK: a review’ written by Dr Tayla Hammond and commissioned by OneKind, establishes the welfare needs of captive reindeer in the UK, explores the impact of captivity and entertainment events on reindeer welfare and provides recommendations to improve captive reindeer welfare. 

Read the report summary 

As well as recommending that the use of reindeer in entertainment events is ceased, due to the welfare concerns identified, the report also recommends that a reindeer welfare stakeholder group is identified in the UK and that the research base on reindeer welfare is broadened and a tool to assess reindeer welfare is developed. 

On the report, OneKind Campaigner, Eve Massie Bishop, commented: 

This report confirms what we have been saying for years; reindeer used in Christmas events across the UK are likely to be suffering from psychological distress and in a state of poor welfare. We simply cannot justify the suffering of these animals for our entertainment

Christmas is a time of joy, kindness and generosity. We must extend this sentiment to non-human animals too”.

Five Domains model 

Dr Tayla Hammond establishes the welfare needs of captive reindeer using the Five Domains model. The model consists of four physical domains (nutrition, physical environment, health and behavioural interactions), which are then accumulated in the fifth domain: the animal’s subjective mental state. 

The Five Domains model was designed as a robust framework for the assessment of animal welfare and has been used in a range of animal species in a variety of situations. These 4 states domains combined ultimately determines the overall welfare state of the animal (Beausoleil et al., 2023). 

Welfare issues 

Reindeer at Christmas display resting on grass.

The comprehensive literature review outlines the following welfare concerns. 

The unnatural environment and lack of agency  

The unnatural environment and lack of agency associated with these events are likely to lead to distress and a state of poor welfare. 

Lack of agency and exposure to unrelenting stressors  

Lack of agency and exposure to unrelenting stressors 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  

Interaction with the public through petting and feeding has the potential to be stressful for reindeer.  

The event environment presents a variety of stimuli that may be perceived as threats 

These threats include loud noises, human ‘predators’ and other animals. As prey animals who form herds, reindeer are highly fearful and vigilant, allowing them to detect and respond to threats to survival. While reindeer may express vigilance in response to these threats, they have limited agency to act upon them, thus leading to a state of fear.  

Long distance travel 

Long distance travel, repeated loading and unloading and pulling Santa’s sleigh can cause physical and mental fatigue to reindeer. 

The stress of transportation and the event environment 

Young reindeer being prepared for Christmas parade

As well as having the potential to cause physical suffering and mental fatigue, the stress of transportation, and the event itself, can compromise immune system function in reindeer. This makes them more susceptible to disease and infection. 

Limited opportunities are presented to conduct natural behaviour 

During these types of entertainment events, such as Christmas displays, limited opportunities are presented to the reindeer to conduct natural behavior, such as the basic need to frequently consume forage. This environment also restricts social behaviours.  

Read the full report

Christmas reindeer events 

Free roaming reindeer

Reindeer are native to the Arctic Tundra. They are herd animals used to the quiet of the wilderness, the open space and the cool temperatures that surround them.  

And yet, each year, captive reindeer throughout the UK are 'displayed’ in small enclosures at garden centres, shopping centres and adventure parks, made to pull sleighs down busy high streets and even transported to people’s houses and primary schools for photo opportunities.   

Charities working together to end live reindeer displays 

Together with Animal Aid, Born Free and Freedom for Animals, we are working to put an end to the exploitation of reindeer in Christmas events throughout the UK.  

The Welfare Needs of Captive Reindeer Used for Entertainment Events in the UK: a review’ will guide our campaign efforts and we will share details of our progress shortly. 

In the meantime, we would urge you to please write to any local venues/councils that are hosting live reindeer displays in your area to ask that they reconsider. We will be producing a letter template for our supporters, so if this is something you’d like to use we will share this shortly by email. You can sign up to receive our emails here.  

Together we can raise awareness that reindeer are sentient beings with complex needs. They are not Christmas props.