Animal rights campaigners have called on Swaffham Town Council not to use reindeer in tonight’s Christmas lights switch-on as they say it is cruel.
Sonul Badiani-Hamment, from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), sent a letter to the Mayor of Swaffham encouraging him to cancel plans.
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. These beautiful animals belong in the Arctic and subarctic regions of the world. 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”,
Ms Badiani-Hamment said. “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.”
She added: “The holiday season is supposed to be about joy and peace. There are many ways that visitors could celebrate this Christmas that would not compromise the well-being of animals.”
But Richard Bishop, Swaffham town clerk, said the calls were unfair and misplaced and the reindeer will be used.
He said: “Like with any event, we have to go through so many hoops to get it on. We have to have assurances about health and safety and this is no different.
“The reindeers are a small part but an import part of the event. it is about creating a little bit of magic for the children at the event.
“They will be there for two-and-a-half to three hours absolute limit.
“It is all about the smiles on the children’s faces. That is the reason we are actually doing these things. Cruelty does not even come into the equation.
“The reindeer are reared and bred in Norfolk and we are quite happy that the company who look after them have ticked every box as far as health and safety is concerned.”
Mr Bishop said the reindeers will be appearing at Christmas switch-ons all over East Anglia, including Ely, Peterborough and Bury St Edmunds.
The Christmas event runs from 2-8pm today with the switch-on at 6pm. The reindeer will be found in Santa’s grotto in Plowright Place.