THE organisers of the Victorian Festival of Christmas in Portsmouth have hit back at criticism of their use of reindeer.
It comes after animal rights group Peta wrote a letter to the Historic Dockyard, which hosts the event, saying use of the captive animals sent a damaging message to children.
But festival organisers say the reindeer are a popular part of the annual event and are well looked after.
John Rawlinson, director of visitor experience, said: ‘The reindeer have returned due to popular demand and our visitors love to see them.
‘Their large pen is positioned away from the main road in a quiet area at the edge of the event.
‘The supplier abides by a very strong code of practice and constantly monitors the reindeer to protect their mental and physical well-being. They’re constantly under the supervision of fully trained and experienced handlers who will be accompanying the animals to ensure that handling and contact is done in a careful and considerate manner.
‘The handlers work hard to ensure visitors enjoy the experience as much as possible while understanding the significance of reindeer in the wild.’
In Peta’s letter, campaigner Sonul Badiani-Hamment asked for the live reindeer to be removed from the festival.
He said: ‘Using live animals sends a damaging message to young people that animals are little more than living props.
‘There are many other ways that the people of Portsmouth could celebrate the holidays that would be far more in keeping with the Christmas spirit than treating scared animals like decorations.’
A Peta spokesman added: ‘Research from the British Veterinary Association shows that reindeer in the UK are dying at a younger age, due to being kept in small spaces and being left open to diseases.
‘The issue goes much deeper than simply having them in an enclosed space at an event, so it’s an issue that we are really passionate about.’
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