Published: 00:01, 16 December 2018
| Updated: 11:13, 17 December 2018
Live reindeer will feature in Christmas festivities at Herne Bay pier, despite attempts by animal activists to stop the event from going ahead over welfare concerns.
The animals will appear at the seaside landmark today for the fourth year in a row following a decision by the pier trust on Friday, December 7.
It comes after trust members were contacted by welfare charity Animal Aid, urging them – and more than 150 other organisations across the country, including Leeds Castle and Sevenoaks District Council – not to book the animals this Christmas.
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It followed the release of footage last month which appeared to show a worker kicking a reindeer twice and shouting abuse at the animals at Kent Reindeer Centre in Capralama Farm in Bethersden.
The charity also said it had found sick-looking reindeer with raw, exposed skin, diarrhoea and skeletal abnormalities.
Doreen Stone, chairman of the pier trust, said: “The activists contacted a lot of people who’d had reindeer, including us.
“It took us weeks to come to this decision as we were worried about the impact it could have on our reputation.”
When the footage emerged, Animal Aid’s campaign manager, Tor Bailey, urged “the general public not to support events which feature live captive animals and find other more animal-friendly ways to enjoy the festive period”.
The Bethersden centre has since sacked the member of staff shown in the clip, but Ms Bailey says the charity still has its “concerns”.
“We do appreciate that the worker from Kent Reindeer Centre filmed kicking the reindeer calf on two separate occasions, swearing at the animals and slamming a gate shut on the reindeer, has since been dismissed,” she said.
“We would still have concerns about the welfare of the animals as, after all, management is ultimately culpable as this was allowed to happen.
“Another worker is seen simply looking on as one of the kicking incidents occurs for example.
“And what of the poorly looking reindeer on display, with raw looking exposed skin, those with diarrhoea, the underweight animal with fluid issuing from the eye and the reindeer with skeletal abnormalities?”
Ms Stone says she was alarmed by the reports and only decided to support booking the animals for this Sunday after an unannounced visit to the reindeer centre in Bethersden.
“I went down to see how the animals were kept a couple of weeks ago and I was very impressed,” she said.
“I was allowed to wander around on my own and I didn’t see anything that caused me to worry. They have plenty of room, are well fed and well kept and the people there seemed to love their animals.”
Trading Standards at Kent County Council said it had been told about issues at the centre, and attended but “found no particular concerns”.
All but one member of the pier trust’s committee backed the decision to book the reindeer for later today.
Ms Stone says three will be held in an enclosure for families to see for free from about 11am.
However, Ms Bailey says the charity is “disappointed” with the pier trust’s decision.
“Animal Aid has tried to engage with the Herne Bay Pier Trust and is disappointed that it has chosen to press ahead with the event despite this information,” she said.
“Animal Aid ultimately does not see the necessity of subjecting reindeer to captive displays.
“There are plenty more imaginative ways to spread Christmas cheer, without causing harm to live animals. Children don’t have to miss out on any of the fun.”