As the countdown to Christmas begins, the RSPCA has expressed concern for the welfare of reindeer used at festive events.
The thought of encountering a real-life reindeer at a Christmas event is exciting for people of all ages, but the RSPCA fears these complex creatures could suffer.
Deer vets report a range of problems in reindeer reared in the UK including lack of weight gain, weight loss, diarrhoea, poor muscle development, poor antler growth, malformed antlers , low fertility and high calf mortality.
The RSPCA’s Principal Scientific Director for Wildlife, Dr Ros Clubb, said: ‘As Christmas approaches, we and other animal welfare charities are really concerned that reindeer being used during festive events across the country could suffer in silence. Reindeer are kept here in the UK all year round, but we always get more calls about them as Christmas approaches, ie when they are taken out for display during festive events.
“We understand that it must seem like magic for people to see a reindeer at Christmas, but the reality is that reindeer are not easy to keep and need specialist care – they get stressed very easily and are very susceptible to many health and wellness issues.”
“In the wild they are prey so they naturally hide their illnesses, and we are concerned that many owners do not realize that their reindeer, who attend stressful and busy festive events, are poorly or cannot detect problems until ’till it’s too late.”
During Christmas events, reindeer may be transported long distances and spend time in small enclosures where they have nowhere to retreat and hide if they feel stressed. They are often petted and fed by many members of the public, or may take part in lively parades.
They are exposed to busy environments, surrounded by crowds, noises and lights, which can cause semi-wild animals a lot of stress.
Welfare organizations fear that many carers of reindeer, which are highly adapted to living in arctic conditions, may not realize that they are more complicated to care for than their cloven-hoofed cousins. such as cattle, goats and sheep and hence reindeer. suffer.
Dr Clubb continued: “These animals are semi-wild and are not the same as deer native to the UK and it is much more difficult to meet their needs in this country.”
“They are not suited to being kept in very small groups in confined spaces and they are vulnerable to a host of health and welfare issues in this country. There is also concern that those who keep small numbers of reindeer on small holdings to make money from during seasonal events likely lack the specialist knowledge needed to properly care for these animals.
“Unfortunately there are no formal requirements to register reindeer so we don’t know how many are kept and where.”
“We’re asking people to consider the welfare implications of the animals involved and perhaps look for events that don’t include live animals. Families might even do something to help native wildlife and s have fun during the holidays, making some wildlife-friendly “reindeer food” to leave in the garden for Rudolph and the wild birds.
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