Help end captive reindeer exploitation

1 December 2022


Born Free joins leading animal welfare organisations to campaign to end the cruel use of reindeer in festive displays across the UK.

As we enter the holiday season, Born Free has joined colleagues to raise our voices for captive reindeer, exploited every year for entertainment in ‘displays’ across the UK. Born Free has joined forces with leading UK animal welfare organisations OneKind, Freedom For Animals and Animal Aid to urge venues to replace captive reindeer displays with forms of entertainment that do not exploit animals.

Venues can listen and respond to public pressure – in 2021 new management at Mercat Shopping Centre in Kirkcaldy, Fife agreed they would no longer be hosting live reindeer displays due to animal welfare concerns. This year, Dalton Park Outlet, Country Durham confirmed they would no longer host a reindeer parade at the shopping centre. In fact, more than 40 events, which used reindeer or other live animals last year, make no mention of live animals for their 2022 events!

This year, the coalition has directly contacted 58 venues across England, Scotland, and Wales that are hosting live reindeer displays. We explained that reindeer are wonderful animals, but sadly these displays are very poor for reindeer welfare. Reindeer are native to the arctic tundra where they can roam hundreds of miles and perform their natural behaviours. They do not belong penned in enclosures for our entertainment.

There are many welfare implications of exhibiting live reindeer, including:

  • Transportation of the reindeer, which evidence suggests is highly stressful.
  • Stress from exposure to loud noises, bright lights, music and unnatural environments.
  • Being exposed to handling by the public.
  • Being confined to a small area (pen) during the displays, where in order to avoid handling by the public, reindeer may confine themselves to an even smaller area within the already restrictive pen.

Reindeer are gregarious, herd-forming, wide-ranging animals with a complex wild diet. Some herds have travelled in excess of 800 miles in a year! Despite their natural social grouping, Born Free’s 2021 report Exhibition or Exploitation found that 25% of operators reported having just two individuals. In captivity, they are also often fed a diet which is very different from the lichens, mosses and mushrooms they would typically graze on during autumn and winter periods in their wild habitats. Our findings indicated that reindeer were also being fed inappropriate food items which can often result in weight loss and poor body condition.

At events, reindeer are regularly exposed to highly stressful and unnatural situations, and repeatedly confined to small, temporary enclosures during transport or when held at exhibition locations. Reindeer, like other prey species when stressed or threatened in the wild, will group together seeking protection from their herd, but at events they are typically confined to small pens in small numbers, which only increases their stress.

We will await responses from the various venues contacted and in the meantime plan our next campaign steps to finally put an end to reindeer displays in the UK.

Chris Lewis, Captivity Research Officer at Born Free stated, “After decades of sustained pressure, the use of wild animals in travelling circuses was banned in England, Scotland and Wales and left in the past where it belongs. Yet year after year the same commercial exploitation of wild animals occurs across the nation, including during the weeks before Christmas to the detriment of hundreds of reindeer.

There are many alternative ways to provide entertainment and engage children and adults without exploiting captive wild animals. Their continued use for public entertainment should provoke the same critical response as the use of wild animals in travelling circuses. The UK claims to be a nation of animal lovers. If we truly are, it is time to leave this outdated and immoral practise in the past too.

We urge the public to not attend such events this year and for organisers to put the welfare of the reindeer used at these events ahead of potential profits. By reducing the demand for these live wild animals to perform, members of the public and event organisers can play an important role in reducing the scale of this significant welfare issue.”



Images © Southeastern Star (Flickr cc)  /  © H Bateman