Reindeer are not for Christmas

Posted on 21 December 2017 by

Gemma Carder

Across the globe and in the UK reindeer are considered a symbol of Christmas.

As Christmas approaches, you’ll often find reindeer at Santa’s grottos and fairs across the country. But what effect does this have on their welfare?

Reindeer may not be able to fly but…

Reindeer are truly fascinating animals. They have learned some amazing survival techniques that enable them to thrive in the arctic weather conditions of their natural habitat.

During the winter months, reindeer can experience darkness for 24 hours a day. To help them see better during the dark months, their eyes change from golden brown to deep blue. This colour change helps reduce the amount of light reflected out of the eye [1].

Reindeer are also able to regulate their body temperature by changing how they breathe, and how blood flows to their brain [2]. This is particularly important during seasonal temperature changes, and during periods of high activity.

Reindeer are also highly adapted to their territory, where they can spend up to 40% of their time in snow. They have blunt toes, and crescent-shaped hooves with a sharp edge to help them grip in the hard snow and ice [3].

Not adapted to life in the UK

In recent years, the number of reindeer being brought into the UK has increased, and they are becoming increasingly popular [4,5]. When reindeers are brought into countries such as ours, which have very different conditions to what they are used to, their health and welfare suffers. This is made worse by the fact that their needs are not often understood by the people caring for them [4].

In their natural environment, reindeer live in herds and are constantly moving and foraging for food, which keeps them fit and healthy [4]. Housed by themselves with little space to roam, and fed an unfamiliar diet, reindeers at Christmas attractions suffer not only physically but mentally too. The crowded, noisy environment of the Christmas grotto is nothing like the natural home of reindeers, and their life here is very different to the one they should be living.

This year please give a thought to reindeers and other animals that may be exploited during the festive season for entertainment. 

We are working to end the suffering of wild animals in the name of tourist entertainment for good. You can help us by pledging not to take part in any holiday activities that involve touching or taking selfies with wild animals. We will use your support to show the travel industry that there is a demand to see animals in the wild rather than used in entertainment. Click here to sign up to our Wildlife Selfie Code.

Further reading

  1. Stokkan, K. A., Folkow, L., Dukes, J., Neveu, M., Hogg, C., Siefken, S & Jeffery, G. (2013). Shifting mirrors: adaptive changes in retinal reflections to winter darkness in Arctic reindeer. In Proc. R. Soc. B, 280 (1773) p. 20132451.
  2. Nieminen, M. (1990). Hoof and foot loads for reindeer (Rangifer tarandus). Rangifer, 10(3), 249-254.
  3. Blix, A. S., Walløe, L., & Folkow, L. P. (2011). Regulation of brain temperature in winter-acclimatized reindeer under heat stress. Journal of Experimental Biology, 214 (22), 3850-3856.
  4. McSloy, A. (2014). Basic veterinary management of reindeer. In Practice, 36(10), 495-500.
  5. 2. Defra. (2014). Health and welfare of reindeer
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