Animal welfare concerns have provoked public outcry over the use of live reindeer at a council-run Christmas event.
A petition calling on Knowsley Council to stop using live animals at Christmas events has garnered nearly 350 signatures since news emerged that the council was planning to have live reindeer at an event in Prescot on December 7.
But a council spokesperson said the local authority and the reindeer provider, Willow Brook Reindeer, “take the welfare of the animals very seriously indeed”.
Animal rights activist Liz Sullivan, who started the petition, said she was “disappointed” that live reindeer had been booked to attend the event.
She said: “Reindeer are highly adapted to the extreme climates of the Arctic.
“They do not cope well in captivity, especially in the very different conditions and climate of the UK and research shows that stress, exposure to disease and a poor diet leads to a high mortality rate in captive reindeer.
“Every Christmas more and more we see events featuring these sensitive animals, made to pull sleighs, or simply stand in small pens in high streets with bright lights, traffic, excitable children – and for what?
“Yes it’s nice for children to see animals close up but not at such cost to the animals.”
The animals are part of the Knowsley Council-run event that was originally planned for December 14 but moved forward a week to avoid a clash with Prescot Town Council’s Christmas Cracker event.
A Knowsley Council spokesperson said: “The reindeer provider is registered with RSPCA, compliant with Defra regulations and carries all the relevant animal movement, performance and insurance documentation.
“Both the council and the provider take the welfare of the animals very seriously indeed. Knowsley Council only use reindeer for smaller events with no loud music and smaller crowds.
“We limit the time the animals in our town centres to a maximum of 4 hours whilst providing shelter for them in the event of adverse weather.”
The spokesperson added: “In addition, as part of our ‘due diligence’ checks, our Environmental Health team inspected the provider’s premises last week. The feedback was really positive and the officer commented on the provider’s knowledge of the animal’s needs: a point that has also been highlighted by their own local authority and registered vet.”
Willow Brook’s website says: “Our reindeer herd are all very tame and love meeting new friends, winning the hearts of children and adults alike where ever they go.
“We provide all relevant animal movement forms, animal display licenses and public liability insure for the reindeer at your event.”
The use of live reindeer at Christmas events has proved controversial elsewhere in the country, with the RSPCA also raising concerns about the animals’ welfare.
Last year, the RSPCA’s senior scientific manager Ros Clubb asked that people “consider the welfare implications of the animals involved and perhaps look for events which don’t include live animals”.
Dr Clubb said: “We understand that it must seem magical for people to see a reindeer at Christmas, but the reality is reindeer aren’t easy to keep well and need specialised care.
“They get stressed very easily and are very susceptible to many health and welfare problems.”