Animal rights group PETA criticises use of live reindeer in Swaffham’s Christmas lights switch-on event

Reindeer at Christmas Events. Picture by: Sonya Duncan

Reindeer at Christmas Events. Picture by: Sonya Duncan - Credit: Sonya Duncan

Swaffham's deputy mayor has defended the use of a live reindeer at today's Christmas market at lights switch-on event following criticism from an animal rights charity.

Campaigner Sonul Badiani-Hamment, from the charity People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), sent a letter to Swaffham Town Council yesterday encouraging the council to cancel plans to use a live reindeer in scheduled Christmas-themed events.

In the letter, PETA – whose motto reads, in part, that 'animals are not ours to use for entertainment' – notes that a busy attraction such as the Swaffham Christmas lights switch-on event, filled with visitors and excited children, is an entirely unsuitable environment for reindeer.

The letter states: 'These beautiful animals belong in the Arctic and subarctic regions of the world.

Holt Christmas lights switch on, 2014. The reindeer.Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Holt Christmas lights switch on, 2014. The reindeer.Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

'When used as holiday 'props', they're denied the opportunity to engage in natural behaviour or roam freely over vast open ranges as they would in their native circumpolar habitat.

'Using live animals 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 that the people of Swaffham could celebrate the holidays that would be far more in keeping with the Christmas spirit than treating scared animals like decorations.'

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Swaffham's deputy mayor Jill Skinner said: 'We've had reindeers here before several times and they are always very well looked after - I can not see the problem.

'I know Castle Acre and many other places often have a live reindeer at their Christmas events.

'They are happy in these environments and not put under any stress.

'I don't think there is anything to get upset about.'

In 2014 PETA wrote to the Christmas lights committee in Holt, asking the committee to abandon plans to bring Rudolph the reindeer to the town's Christmas lights switch-on because of welfare and public safety concerns.

Committee chairman Esme Bagnall-Oakeley said at the time: 'We have had reindeer at the switch-on the past four years.

'We put them in a quiet place so they are not near crowds.

'We have never had a problem with the reindeer.

'They have never appeared traumatised and they are used to seeing people because they are from a park farm.

'PETA has seen our event and have written to us from a distance with a lot of preconceived ideas.

'The handlers from the park have handwash gels and everything is done to keep the animals happy and quiet.'

She added the creatures were popular with all generations and visitors were respectful around them.

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