reindeer in the arctic tundra

Reindeer are beautiful animals 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, across the UK, these animals are forced into small enclosures at garden centres, shopping centre and adventure parks, made to pull a sleigh down busy high streets and even transported to people’s houses and primary schools for petting and photo opportunities.

We are working in conjunction with Animal Aid, Born Free and Freedom for Animals to put an end to live reindeer displays across the UK.

Reindeer in captivity

A captive reindeer sitting on grass.

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

Dr Tayla Hammond, the author of a new report commissioned by OneKind, The Welfare Needs of Captive Reindeer Used for Entertainment Events in the UK: a review, states that reindeer are harder to keep in captivity than other ruminants.

Read the report

Veterinarians have also voiced concern over the lack of suitability of reindeer for the type of domestication seen in the UK, particularly for those managed by private owners for use in entertainment shows. Dr John Fletcher, founder of the Veterinary Reindeer Society, has stated that reindeer are not able to cope with the stress of captivity, and that most diseases seen in reindeer in the UK are stress-related. Indeed, the RSPCA’s Senior Scientific Manager in wildlife Dr Ros Clubb has also stated that reindeer are particularly susceptible to becoming ill through stress caused by being used in events.

Poor body weight, weight loss, muscle atrophy and general malaise are commonly reported problems in captive reindeer.  

Associated welfare issues during displays

Captive reindeer in pen on busy High Street.

 

During the live reindeer displays, reindeer may be restrained to a small pen, where the public will be encouraged to pet the animals and take photographs with them.  

For some displays, such as those hosted in local communities, the reindeer will be forced to pull a sleigh with people down a busy high street.   

Reindeer may also be exposed to loud noises, bright lights and music- an environment that is a far cry from the Artic Tundra. They may also be subjected to hours of being handled by members of the public without any opportunity to retreat if they are uncomfortable.  

This unnatural environment, inability to perform natural behaviours and retreat, and long distance travel can lead to physical and mental suffering. The Welfare Needs of Captive Reindeer Used for Entertainment Events in the UK: a review, highlights the following welfare concerns.

 

The unnatural environment and lack of agency 

Captive reindeer being prepared for Christmas parade.

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

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

A young captive reindeer being prepared for Christmas parade.

 

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

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. 

What is OneKind doing?  

We’ve joined forces with leading UK animal welfare organisations Born Free Foundation, Freedom For Animals and Animal Aid to urge venues in Scotland to replace captive reindeer displays with forms of entertainment that do not exploit animals.

We co-ordinated an open letter signed by eleven animal welfare organisations, which we sent to 219 venues and all councils around the UK, calling on them to cease the use of live reindeer in their Christmas celebrations.

In response, 44 venues (that previously used live reindeer between 2018-2022) confirmed that their Christmas celebrations would go ahead in 2023 without the use of reindeer. A further 109 events that have previously used live animals between 2019-2022 were not advertising the use of live animals last year. 

How can I help?

You can help us end live reindeer displays by taking a moment to send an email to venues in Scotland and/or elsewhere in the UK, using our template letter as a guide, urging them to instead use animal-free methods of entertainment. We’d encourage you to use your own words as far as possible, to have greater impact. 

We’ve also produced a campaign video, that we’d love for you to share across socials: