EXTRA welfare checks will be made on the animals taking part in this weekend’s Rotherham Real Reindeer Parade after it became the target of animal rights activists.
The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals this week urged Rotherham Borough Council to cancel tomorrow’s event, which will see Santa’s sleigh pulled by reindeer through the town centre and an enclosure set up outside Boots for shoppers to see the animals up close.
In an open letter to council leader Cllr Chris Read, PETA’s campaigns strategist Luke Steele, said the occasion, which usually draws large crowds of excited children and other visitors, was “an entirely unsuitable environment for reindeer”.
Mr Steele continued: “A busy, brightly lit Christmas parade – packed with members of the public, including excited children – isn’t a suitable environment for sensitive wild animals such as reindeer.
“These beautiful beings belong in the Arctic and subarctic regions of the world.
“When used as holiday props, they're denied the opportunity to engage in natural behaviour, such as roaming freely across vast open ranges as they would in their native habitat.
“Numerous health and welfare issues occur when reindeer are uprooted and transported in captivity many degrees south of their normal range.
“People who hire them out at Christmas often lack even a basic understanding of their needs.”
Mr Steele added: “Using live reindeer in these sorts of events sends a damaging message to young people that animals are little more than living props.
“There are many other ways for the people of Rotherham to celebrate the holidays that would be far more in keeping with the Christmas spirit than treating scared animals like decorations.”
Mr Steele said a poor diet, exposure to the diseases of other animals, and the stress of being removed from their natural environment had contributed to an increase in deaths among young reindeer used in the UK, according to research published in a British Veterinary Association journal.
“The practice of taking these animals on the road, confining them to pens, and treating them as mere Christmas decorations is unacceptable,” he said.
“We don’t want our kids to grow up thinking that animals exist merely for our entertainment.
“Ending the use of reindeer would do nothing to diminish children's sense of magic during this festive time.
“For the animals, though, it would make a world of difference.”
The council’s assistant director of culture, leisure and sport, Polly Hamilton, said the reindeer’s welfare was taken “very seriously” but more checks would be made.
“The farm owners have provided evidence that they hold the necessary documentation and given assurances that they operate a strict husbandry regime to ensure the herd is in good health all year round,” she said.
“Nevertheless, we appreciate the concerns of PETA and animal health officers will visit the reindeer whilst they are at the event as well as liaise with Council colleagues in North Yorkshire to carry out additional checks.”
The Real Reindeer Parade will begin at 12.45pm, led by joined by street theatre act The Maniax and the City of Sheffield Pipe Band.
The reindeer will be in viewing area will be outside Boots until 3pm, with Thorpe Hesley Brass Band providing musical entertainment.