‘Cruelty’ row over reindeer at Victorian Festival of Christmas

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Visitors dressed up in ghoulish outfits 'Picture: Aaliyah Yaqub

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Animal rights campaigners have criticised the ‘cruel’ use of reindeer at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard’s annual Christmas spectacular.

PETA say the use of the captive animals sends a damaging message to children, after a letter to the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard criticised the use of live reindeer at the three-day Victorian Festival of Christmas, which starts tomorrow.

But managers at the Historic Dockyard say the reindeer they will be using are specially bred for events, film and television, and are kept in high-quality conditions.

In the letter to the Historic Dockyard, headlined ‘Portsmouth Christmas event under fire for cruel plans to feature live reindeer’ PETA campaigner Sonul Badiani-Hamment asked for the live reindeer to be removed from the festival.

He said: ‘Using live animals in these sorts of events 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 said: ‘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.’

Managers at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard responded by saying that the reindeer they use are kept in the best possible conditions.

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 monitor the reindeer to protect their mental and physical well-being.

‘They are 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 whilst understanding the significance of reindeer in the wild.’