Eleven animal welfare organisations have signed an open letter to 225 organisations, including event organisers, NHS Trusts, care home groups, garden centres, and pub chains to ask them to cease the use of live reindeer in their Christmas celebrations.  

The open letter was also sent to local authorities across the UK to ask that they review their policy on the use of reindeer in events. 

The open letter comes following the release of a new report that highlights the negative welfare impacts of these events on reindeer. 

The new report- from Researcher in Animal Welfare and Behaviour, Dr Tayla Hammond- explores the welfare needs of captive reindeer used for entertainment events in the UK, and ultimately recommends that the use of reindeer in entertainment events is ceased. It states that the unnatural environment and lack of agency (the ability to make free choices or have control over aspects of their lives) associated with these events are likely to lead to psychological distress and a state of poor welfare in reindeer. 

In the letter, the charities outlined the following concerns as raised in the report: 

  • 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 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). 
  • The constant, unfamiliar and unpredictable 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, including loud noises, human ‘predators’ and other animals. 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, repeated loading and unloading and pulling Santa’s sleigh can cause physical and mental fatigue. 
  • The stress of transportation and the event environment can compromise immune system function, making them more susceptible to disease and infection. 
  • Limited opportunities are presented to conduct natural behavioural interactions with the environment and other animals. 

Animal welfare charities, OneKind, Animal Aid, Born Free and Freedom for Animals are leading the campaign to end live reindeer displays across the UK. 

OneKind Campaigner, Eve Massie Bishop said: 

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. 

“We would urge people not to visit any events that exploit these animals for entertainment and instead celebrate the festivities at animal-friendly events. As the report highlights, reindeer are sentient beings with complex needs. They are not Christmas props. 

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

Animal Aid Campaigns Officer, Nina Copleston, said: 

Animal Aid have long campaigned to end the use of reindeer in festive celebrations. Every year, reindeer are transported up and down the country; forced into shopping centres or paraded along busy streets; subject to miserable lives in captivity. One moment of ‘festive fun’ for a human equals a lifetime of suffering for these gentle, sensitive animals. This report confirms that the demands of Christmas events are not suitable for reindeer who should be wandering the wilds - not held captive for human amusement. With a range of creative, animal-free alternatives available, there is simply no need for event organisers to subject reindeer to such misery. We can all enjoy a magical Christmas without causing harm to an animal”. 

Freedom for Animals Campaigns Officer, Isobel McNally, said: 

"Every year at Freedom for Animals we campaign to end the abuse of hundreds of reindeer who are repeatedly dragged into a life on the road to serve as props in shopping centres, garden centres, town centres and more. They're subjected to loud, busy, and stressful environments, and forced to pull sleighs and to parade down high streets. Freedom for Animals welcomes this report which confirms our belief that these events are harmful to reindeer. In light of its publication we urge all event organisers to opt for compassionate, animal-free celebrations instead. There is nothing magical about seeing a magnificent animal like a reindeer deprived of their liberty, fenced in on display, or forced to perform". 

Born Free Captivity Research Officer, Chris Lewis, said: 

Born Free welcomes the findings of this report, which recommend these sentient wild animals are no longer used as entertainment, including at festive events. There are many alternative ways to provide entertainment and engage children and adults without exploiting captive wild animals. The continued use of reindeer for public entertainment should provoke the same critical response as the use of wild animals in travelling circuses. After decades of sustained pressure, the use of wild animals in travelling circuses was banned in England, Scotland and Wales and left in the past where it belongs. Yet year after year the same commercial exploitation of wild animals occurs across the nation; including during the weeks before Christmas to the detriment of hundreds of reindeer. The UK claims to be a nation of animal lovers. If we truly are, it is time to leave this outdated and immoral practice in the past too”. 


Notes to Editor 

OneKind commissioned the report by Researcher in Animal Welfare and Behaviour, Dr Tayla Hammond. Read the report here or a shorter summary here

If you would like to know if any events in your local area have been contacted please contact: [email protected]