Reindeer displays, Covid-19, and alternative ways to spread Christmas cheer

Posted on the 26th November 2020

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a large impact on UK captive reindeer events, since banning large gatherings effectively resulted in no parades or any associated activity which encourage people to congregate en-masse in town centres or in indoor spaces. Gathering around reindeer pens is effectively off limits, as it doesn’t mix well with the need for social distancing. This gives many of the reindeer a break this year from being transported up and down the country and held in pens under bright lights to be prodded by excitable and noisy revellers.

Quote from Simon Cowell - stop using animals in Christmas events

George Richardson, the owner of one of the largest herds in England, has reported a 95% decrease in bookings this year (as reported on Sky News 2020). And, it seems that the Cairngorm reindeer will not be carted from pillar to post on an extensive tour of the UK, but will remain in their Scottish mountain home where visitors can still see them.

Early studies found reindeer to be at ‘high risk’ of catching, and potentially transmitting, SARS-CoV-2 and similar viruses (Damas et al. 2020). This is especially concerning, as we have learned of schools looking to host reindeer ‘petting displays’. In the current climate, it is vital that we do all we can to protect and prevent further transmission of the virus. There is also the risk of the transfer of other zoonotic infections to children, such as E-coli. Once again, we question whether all of this is really worth running the risk?

Very few events seem to be going ahead, they are mostly at garden centres or reindeer centres offering such things as ‘Santa’s Drive Through Adventure’ as well as other outdoor events, such as this one in Belle Vue Park or Strathaven Reindeer Day.

It is not yet known what longer-term impact this will have on the domestic reindeer exhibition trade. Should any businesses fold, Animal Aid would hope that the animals would be be relocated to a new, suitable sanctuary environment, to live a fuller life. It is a far cry from their natural lives in Scandinavia. Ultimately, we would like to see a ban on the import of any reindeer into the UK.

It is wonderful to hear of the many carefully managed, positive alternatives that are taking place up and down the UK. From reindeer-themed fun runs to a ‘Christmas in Sunderland Augmented Reality trail’, using phones to find simulated virtual characters whilst admiring the festive lights, to making wildlife friendly reindeer food.

‘Families can still go out and about safely and see the light installations and search for the Christmas characters, which we are sure will be as popular as the Halloween monsters were.’ Sharon Appleby, Head of Business Operations at Sunderland BID.

We are delighted that Knowsley Council unanimously approved a motion from Green Councillor, Jo Burke, prohibiting the use of live animals at council events, unless in limited circumstances such as it being ‘consistent with their natural habitat’. She spoke in the meeting of the use of reindeer at Christmas events, saying that it caused them ‘huge stress’ through noise and the experience of being transported around the country. We hope that other councils will follow their progressive and compassionate example!

All of this does, however, present us with a great opportunity to continue to engage with event organisers and encourage animal-free festivities in coming years! If you hear of any events taking place in your local communities, please do make use of our free ‘Antler Action Pack’ to engage with them and drop us an email with the details for us to get in touch with them as well.

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