Reindeers are native to the Artic Tundra, where they roam for thousands of miles across the Tundra.

Reindeer in the Tundra

Some populations even travel up to 3000 miles a year- the longest documented movement of any terrestrial mammal. And yet, each year in Scotland, these animals are forced into small enclosures at garden centres and adventure parks, made to pull a sleigh down busy high streets and even transported to people’s houses and primary schools for photo opportunities.

It is unacceptable. Reindeer are not Christmas props and these festive events are responsible for a wealth of reindeer welfare issues.

The impact of COVID-19 on live reindeer displays

In 2020, there was a welcome significant drop in the number of live reindeer displays– from 15 to just 4- which can very likely be attributed to the varying COVID-19 restrictions across Scotland. This year, the number of displays has crept back up to 8, although this does not account for any private displays and school visits. This is, of course, still a much lower number of displays from 2019 and we are hopeful that many local councils and private businesses that previously exhibited reindeer have learned that there are many more creative, exciting and animal-free ways to celebrate the festive season.

Reindeer at car park

Indeed, we were delighted to hear from Mercat Shopping Centre in Kirkcaldy, Fife, that the new management would no longer be hosting live reindeer displays due to animal welfare concerns! And just two years ago, Aberdeen City Council pulled funding for live reindeer displays at shopping centre, Aberdeen Trinity Centre.

Sadly, some reindeer will still continue suffer this year, though, and that’s why we are urging you to read the animal welfare issues associated with these displays and #BoycottReindeerDisplays.

Captivity of reindeer

Reindeer do not belong in a life of captivity and it is very difficult to ensure that their needs are met in captive environments in Scotland.

Research in 2009 concluded that a poor diet and the stress from being removed from natural habitats lead to a high mortality rate in captive reindeer. Indeed, Dr John Fletcher, founder of the Veterinary Reindeer Society, has stated that reindeer are not able to copy with the stress of captivity, and that most diseases seen in reindeer in the UK are stress-related. Welfare issues seen in captive deer include poor muscle development, weight loss, diarrhoea and antler malformation.

In winter, the natural diet of wild reindeer is lichen and at other times of the year they mainly graze on leaves, sedges and grasses – a far cry from the hay and concentrates that captive reindeer are primarily fed in Scotland. Imported reindeer inevitably a change of diet and very often a need to compete with others for “trough space”.

Many other animal welfare organisations, including RSPCA, Freedom for Animals and Animal Aid, are also opposed to live reindeer displays.

When asked about live reindeer displays, RSPCA commented:

“These are semi-wild animals that are highly adapted to the arctic environment. They have very different needs to deer that are native to the UK and it is much more difficult to meet their needs, particularly when kept by non-specialists in small groups for use at festive events.”

Stressful journeys to the displays

It is not surprising that the transportation of reindeer to Christmas displays is a stressful experience for the animals. Two 1997 studies found that deer find journeys stressful, with journeys that involve winding roads, being particularly stressful to deer. The study concluded that journey times should be minimised, as deer experience increasing stress from transportation as the journey length increases.

Associated welfare issues during the displays

During the live reindeer displays, reindeer will be restrained to a small pen, where the public, including children, will be encouraged to pet the animals and take photographs with them. For some displays, such as those hosted by local authorities, the reindeers will be forced to pull a sleigh with people down a busy high street. Can we justify their long-term suffering for a quick picture with Santa? Can we expect these wild animals to pull sleighs for our humour?

Reindeer will also be exposed to loud noises, bright lights and music. An environment that is a far cry from the Artic Tundra. Is it right to expose these naturally shy and reserved animals to loud noises, bright lights, and the swarms of eager children desperate to pet them?

At most of the displays OneKind has witnessed in recent years, there were only two reindeer present. As herd animals, reindeer are likely to be stressed when used in just twos.

Exhibiting of stress after the displays

As prey animals, reindeer are very good at hiding their stress, and problems related to stressful festive displays may not manifest until sometime later, meaning that the public may believe the animals are settled and content, when they are in fact suffering.

Lack of dignity

Not only does exhibiting live reindeer for festive celebrations cause them great physical and mental suffering, but it also suggests that animals are not sentient beings, but rather are props to be used for our entertainment. They are dressed up to suit our ideals around Christmas, and deprived of their dignity.

How can I help?

Please email each of the venues listed below, to let them know that the Scottish public will not stay silent on these cruel events. You can head here for a letter template, but we ask that you please personalise your letter for maximum effect.

  1. Wildwoodz, Inverness  Email: [email protected]
  2. Gouldings Garden Centre, Carluke  Email: [email protected]
  3. M&Ds theme park, Motherwell  Email: [email protected]
  4. Kellockbank, Culsalmond, Insch  Email: [email protected]
  5. Falkirk Wheel, Rough Castle Experiences  Email: [email protected]
  6. Oban Winter Festival  Contact form:
  7. Crieff Hydro Winter Wonderland  Contact form:
  8. Inverurie Reindeer Parade  Email: [email protected]
  9. Banff Reindeer Parade  Call: 0121 815623