Two garden centres who use live reindeers in their Christmas attractions have been criticised by animal rights activists over the past week.
In Yorkshire, protesters urged the Wyevale Garden Centre at Birchencliffe to cancel the live reindeer event planned for last Saturday (12 November), which it condemned as cruel.
In Kent, campaigners accused Hawley Garden Centre at Dartford of animal cruelty for featuring live reindeer in its grotto.
The Birchencliffe centre (formerly Armitages) has held a reindeer parade for many years to herald Santa’s arrival.
Urging them to cancel its plans, Animal Aid, one of the UK’s largest animal rights organisations, said research by vets showed that reindeer suffered when uprooted from their natural habitat and placed in captivity. It added: “The research shows that a poor diet, exposure to diseases and stress are prevalent and lead to a high mortality rate in captive reindeer.”
The stress of being carted around the country to busy, noisy brightly-lit environments was “a huge welfare concern. This applies to reindeer whether imported from the wild or bred in captivity”.
WGC said health and safety checks were made to ensure the reindeer were comfortable and came to no harm.
Animal Aid campaign manager Tod Bradbury told the Huddersfield Examiner: “Reindeer should be living free in the tundra, not placed in a busy street. Not only is it cruel to transport these often shy, reserved animals around the country and force them into stressful environments, it also gives the wrong impression to the public – in particular, young children. It teaches them that animals are mere props and decorations, rather than sentient beings deserving of respect.
“We are absolutely sure that Wyevale Garden Centre’s motives were related to bringing festive joy to local residents. However, this can be achieved without putting the well-being of animals at risk.”
A WGC spokesperson said: “The reindeer parade is actually a part of our Christmas Charity Grotto…all moneys raised go to local charities. The parade is an activity that locals within the areas of which they’re running look forward to every year, making this a fun-filled safe activity for all to enjoy and health and safety checks are thoroughly made before, during and after the parade to ensure that the reindeers involved in the parade are comfortable and not harmed in any way.”
At Dartford, local activist Rob de Silva collected almost 500 signatures on a petition calling for the centre to “stop exploiting reindeer this Christmas”.
“Loud crowds and noises can be very stressful for them, never mind the fact that they'll be stuck in a small space all day being prodded by children,” he added.
The centre’s director Janice East said the petition was unfair. “We are an animal-friendly garden centre, where all the staff love animals. We do not hire the reindeer in, they are our own reindeer that we bought when they were just four months old. They are ours, and all the staff know and care for them. They have their own purpose-built Christmas pen with a second fence so people can't get too close. They come out of their pen themselves though, and they like people.”
Ms East said they had declined past requests to hire out the reindeer because they felt that changing their surroundings would distress the animals.