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Reindeer welfare

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This years annual Magical Middlesbrough Parade with Santa’s special reindeer will take place on 28th November. 

The Reindeer used in the parade are supplied by Cairngorm Reindeer, who have have been identified as responsible Reindeer caretakers of Britain's only free ranging heard of reindeer living in the Highlands of Scotland on the Cairngorm Mountains since 1952. 

The welfare of the reindeer is of paramount importance to us at Middlesbrough council which is why we continue to work closely with Cairngorm Reindeer Centre who have provided us with the following reassuring information.

The animals are transported with a DEFRA licence and are under constant supervision from their carers. 

After travelling to the town, the reindeer are given an amount of time to acclimatise to their new surroundings before taking part in the parade. They are also restricted in the amount of time they can be on display subject to law.

The Animal Welfare Act 2006 requires a duty of care for keepers to provide for the needs of animals, providing suitable food, water, companionship and housing, preventing pain, injury, suffering and disease, and allowing freedom to express natural behaviours. Whenever our reindeer are out on tour, they are accompanied by herders who look after them year round and the comfort, happiness and well-being of the reindeer is paramount. Our reindeer have access to water at all times, and we carry specially mixed dry feed and lichen to provide balanced nutrition. As reindeer are a herd animal, and even the tamest individual would become worried if separated from the others, we take teams of a minimum of four, and most often six, animals. We know every reindeer in the herd by name and carefully assess their personalities before selecting a team to ensure that bullying by a dominant individual won’t take place.

Whilst on tour, the reindeer stay at farm bases overnight, which reduces travelling time. These bases always allow plenty of space to exercise, a comfortable place to sleep and access to grazing. When being transported, we use trucks with specially designed livestock boxes on, with two sections bedded with straw allowing the reindeer space to lie down and turn around. They travel loose and are always happy to load. On most occasions when we check the reindeer mid-trip, they are all lying down and chewing the cud – the ultimate sign of relaxation.

We work very closely with every member of the herd from a young age, meaning they have no fear of humans and are very relaxed even in the presence of crowds. It may seem unlikely that they can adapt so easily from being out in the wilds, dealing with winter blizzards and winds, to pulling a sleigh in a busy town centre, but this is testament to their gentle laid-back natures. Reindeer are experts at conserving energy, as they are designed to survive on minimal food over the harsh winters, so quickly assess whether or not a new situation is a threat and worth wasting energy on. If not, they quickly relax, and by training younger reindeer against older experienced reindeer, they instinctively follow the example of the more mature reindeer.

We also hold a Performing Animals Licence, as required under the Performing Animals Act 1925.

We limit the amount of time our reindeer are on public display to ensure they don’t become bored and restless. Every event is different, but in general we arrive in plenty of time to set up and feed the reindeer in a relaxed manner, off public view. We may then take part in a parade before the reindeer spend some time in a display pen. The maximum length of time that the reindeer are on public display is three hours, which we tend to find works very well – they eat their food, lie down and have a sleep, then by the time they are waking up again it is time to leave.

We assess the sites for setup, parade route and display pen before the reindeer are unloaded to check for any hazards. An experienced herder is with the reindeer at all times, and we are responsible for all handling of the animals. This minimises any risk to the reindeer.

Our harnesses and sleighs are designed to our own specifications and are a result of years of fine-tweaking to perfect the design. The harness fits comfortably and puts no pressure on the reindeer. The sleigh itself runs on wheels, and most of the weight is pushed by the herder walking behind the sleigh. The reindeer do very little physical work at all aside from walking along.