Why I Won't Be Taking My Son To See Reindeer This Christmas

It's becoming an increasingly common sight: signs advertising "live reindeer appearances" at garden centres, shopping centres, grottos and High Streets up and down the UK. Reindeer are naturally synonymous with Christmas, down to their essential role in helping Santa to deliver gifts across the globe. I have reindeer themed decorations, and I'm sure I'll receive (and send) a few reindeer based greetings cards. They're on wrapping paper, chocolates, and television adverts, and, along perhaps with the robin, are the archetypal British Christmas animal. Except, they aren't British at all. Reindeer can live in the UK, and they do, but we can't offer them the sort of habitat that they're designed for, thus robbing them of a natural life. The only known place in the UK suitable for reindeer to live an authentic reindeer existence, is in the Cairngorm mountains (where there are, indeed, farmed reindeer). 
I do not mind reindeer on cards or advent calendars, and I certainly don't object to the occasional reindeer bauball. But I do vote a firm "NO" to reindeer being used as an attraction, because, quite simply, they're wild animals. 
I've been a huge lover of zoos and wildlife parks in the past, when my son was younger I took him to a "Reindeer Centre" in the run up to Christmas, where he merrily kissed a caged reindeer on the nose, it felt lovely at the time, but I only look back on that experience with guilt. 
I don't want my son to grow up thinking that animals are to be brought out as spectacles, that they exist simply to delight humans. Reindeers aren't captive animals, they're farmed in Scandinavia for their milk, and a variety of other products, and have been for thousands of years, I'm not about to start debating that, but here in the UK, we predominantly use them for entertainment. They are no better off, in my opinion, than circus elephants. 
Most British reindeer herd owners will argue that their deer are "happy". In an article with the Daily Mirror (I don't read it, I came across a link to the article on Twitter), the owner of the Cairngorm Reindeer Herd said "We know our reindeer are very happy and comfortable in their work - otherwise we wouldn't take them to the parades - as we are the ones who work with them day in and day out, and know them extremely well" - now, I don't dispute that she doesn't know the reindeer in her care, but how can a reindeer tell you that it is happy? By not showing distress? A reindeer who has never known anything but a life where it is paraded in front of noisy crowds and excited children, may not show distress, because it is the only reality that it has ever known - does that make it OK? Not in my book! Does the fact that a reindeer stands there, unphased by loud noise and mulled wine, because it believes that that is what it is to be a reindeer,  mean that that reindeer is happy? Of course not. 
To go back to circus elephants (and can we all agree that using elephants in circuses is cruel and horrible?) - most circus elephants dutifully plod through their routines, performing the tricks that they've been forced to perform since they were babies, often to avoid beatings; they won't complain, they won't object, they'll do as is bid of them - are they "happy elephants"? Of course not, they're miserable elephants. Just because a reindeer gets on with it's "work" without complaint does not demonstrate its joy and jubilation at being in a Christmas parade!
I saw a picture recently of two reindeer, in a small holding pen, in a car park. What is that?
Many of these reindeer herds, including the Cairngorms herd, tour the country in the run up to Christmas, filling a short, 2 week "season" with visits to public places at opposite ends of the country. Those behind the herd state that the reindeer are transported in special lorries (ahhh, an essential carbon dioxide emitting vehicle to be on our roads!) in spacious, straw filled pens, and are not tied up. Now - whilst this sounds relatively pleasant for the deer compared to some alternatives - is it not also highly dangerous? To have a deer, in a lorry, unsecured, with space to jump about, with straw on the floor? They also state that whilst touring, the deer stay on rural farmland in between appearances. As though this makes everything cool. Can we take a minute to consider how unnatural it is for a reindeer to travel, in a lorry, and stay in a different field every night? That isn't typical reindeer behaviour, right? 
Reindeer are truly beautiful and magical looking animals. I understand the desire to see them. I understand the desire to convince your children that the ones outside Marks and Spencers are Santa's real reindeer. Now you need to understand that to satisfy that desire would only be selfish. Why do you get to use the reindeer to spread some Christmas joy? Why does the reindeer have to appear in a car park in order to make your family's day special? 
This is why we won't be seeing any reindeer this Christmas, other than those on jumpers, of course.

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