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Leeds Castle scraps plans for live reindeer following footage of animal abuse at Kent Reindeer Centre

Live reindeer have been axed by organisers of a Christmas market after visitors voiced concerns after covert filming caught animals being abused.

Earlier this week Kent Online showed footage obtained by charity Animal Aid of a reindeer being kicked at the Kent Reindeer Centre in Bethersden.

Now Leeds Castle have pulled the plug on plans to have live reindeer at their Christmas market which opens later this month.

The appalling conditions reindeer are kept in at Kent Reindeer Centre, as seen in undercover footage captured by Animal Aid at UK farms. Picture: SWNS (5221188)
The appalling conditions reindeer are kept in at Kent Reindeer Centre, as seen in undercover footage captured by Animal Aid at UK farms. Picture: SWNS (5221188)

Organisers cited concerns raised by those who plan to visit the market following the footage.

A spokesman said: “Following visitor concerns, Leeds Castle has taken the decision to no longer have live reindeer at our Christmas Market.

“As a family friendly attraction, Leeds Castle is keen to bring joy and happiness to our visitors especially at Christmas time but following the feedback we have received, we no longer feel it is appropriate to have reindeer as part of our event.”

Animal Aid said they collected the undercover footage at three farms in Kent, Staffordshire and Cheshire in 2017 and 2018.

Leeds Castle's Christmas Market is opened on November 24
Leeds Castle's Christmas Market is opened on November 24

The welfare charity claims they found poorly-looking reindeer with raw, exposed skin, diarrhoea and skeletal abnormalities.

Footage they claim was taken at Kent Reindeer Centre in Capralama Farm in Bethersden in May 2018 shows a worker apparently kicking a reindeer twice, as well as shouting abuse at the animals.

Tor Bailey, campaign manager at Animal Aid, said: "Our investigations have revealed the shocking suffering of these gentle animals.

"Reindeer are sensitive wild animals, not props to be paraded around and used for human entertainment.

"I would urge 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 footage and photos come after government figures show that between 2014 to 2017, 571 reindeer were imported from Sweden, Finland and Norway.

Animal Aid claim that once they are brought to the UK - usually to be used in festive grotto and reindeer parades - they are susceptible to a variety of diseases and pathogens.

A charity spokesperson said they had reported their findings to each area's Trading Standards department, DEFRA and the RSPCA.

A Kent Reindeer Centre spokesman said: "I would like to say that all our animals are much loved and well cared for as can be seen by our many visitors throughout the year.

"The person involved was one of several new part-time staff that we took on to help out. He was dismissed as unsuitable after a short period of time.

"These matters were discussed in full with the RSPCA and our vet back in the summer."

The appalling conditions reindeer are kept in at Kent Reindeer Centre, as seen in undercover footage captured by Animal Aid at UK farms. Picture: SWNS (5221194)
The appalling conditions reindeer are kept in at Kent Reindeer Centre, as seen in undercover footage captured by Animal Aid at UK farms. Picture: SWNS (5221194)

Trading Standards at Kent County Council said it had been told about concerns at the centre, and attended but "found no particular concerns at times".

They said one animal was thin due to age and they didn't take any extra action.

An RSPCA spokesperson said: “It is never acceptable to kick an animal as seen in this footage and when we were alerted to it we sent an officer to the scene.

“Reindeer are semi-wild animals that are highly adapted to the arctic environment. They have very different needs to deer that are native to the UK and it is much more difficult to meet their needs, particularly when kept by non-specialists in small groups for use at festive events.

"This means having them in a busy environment, surrounded by crowds, noise and lights during a festive event makes it even more difficult.

Reindeer have been used at Leeds Castle's Christmas Market in the past
Reindeer have been used at Leeds Castle's Christmas Market in the past

“They get stressed easily and are very susceptible to many health and welfare problems when kept in permanent captivity in the UK, particularly in southern areas.

“We are really concerned that every year, reindeer are used across the country at festive events and exposed to a busy environment, surrounded by crowds, noise and lights, and this can cause these semi-wild animals a great deal of stress.

“Anyone with further concerns for the reindeer, or any other reindeer, can call us on 0300 1234 999.”

Blithbury Reindeer Lodge in Rugeley, Staffordshire, and Cheshire Reindeer Lodge were also criticised by the charity for its treatment of the animals.

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