It’s not just reindeer who are exploited at Christmas

At the end of November our Animal Events Campaigner, Sarah Coleman, visited the Bakewell Christmas Market, on the look out for reindeer. Instead, she came across other unexpected animals being used for festive entertainment. Here she shares with us what she observed in this Derbyshire rural town.

Bakewell is a quaint little market town in the Peak District and is a very popular tourist destination. It appears to be even more popular during the run up to Christmas, when different seasonal markets are held and this year proved to be no different with people queuing for over a mile to reach the town’s car parks. There were market stalls dotted around at the entrance to Bakewell from the car park and the main market area was thick with people.

It is a small place with busy roads, cramped market stalls, and noisy amusement rides for children. The bells in the church at the centre of town were ringing for quite some time when we arrived and it definitely had a bustling atmosphere.

Wild birds on display in broad daylight – completely unnatural to some of these nocturnal species

It is a shame, however, that certain outdated traditions seem to be totally acceptable here, such as having a wide range of animal attractions as part of the daily entertainment. There was plenty to see and do as part of an enjoyable day out, including local choirs, children’s fun-fair rides, street food, Santa’s grotto and local breweries (including a bar in a bus!). There was absolutely no need to incorporate animals dressed up and being paraded around like props.

These owls were tethered down and unable to fly away

It wasn’t long before we were face-to-face with living animals as we entered the event. In a very busy walkway we encountered the bird of prey stand, represented by the National Falconry School. There were various owls and birds of prey in a small tent, tethered to tiny tree stumps, with many people crowded around to see. They were charging £5 to have your photo taken with one of these birds. As far as we could see they were part of the market, so would be there all day, and it was likely they would have been there the previous day. There was nowhere for these birds to hide from the constant surge of people walking by.

As we turned into Water Street where the donkey rides were advertised, we immediately realised how busy these small streets could become and how noisy this particular one was. One thing which stood out from the noise of the crowds was the blaring music from a pop-up amusement ride, which appeared as though it would be on a loop all day. The two donkeys were dressed up with bells and tinsel on their harnesses, both being pulled along by a single keeper whilst a small child rode one of them and other people walked alongside.

The bells on their harnesses were very close to their eyes, this coupled with the loud music and having to weave through dense crowds, I can only imagine how stressful this must have been for these animals. Donkey riding was very fashionable along the seaside in Victorian times, and I can’t help but feel that society should have moved beyond this kind of attraction by now.

This Shetland pony looks more like a Christmas prop than a live animal – so degrading

At the entrance to the main market square we saw two Shetland ponies which were both dressed up in Christmas style attire with reindeer antlers on their head. As with the donkeys, the event advertised the pony carriage rides as being available on both days for the entire day, so it seems clear these ponies would be very tired by the end of the event. A metal trailer seat with two people riding must have been quite a heavy weight for these small ponies to bear.

It feels that such a festive event should be about everyone’s enjoyment and shouldn’t be at the expense of others. It’s lovely to bring people together for social times, to provide fun activities for families, and for a chance to visit a beautiful town; but it was completely tarnished by the various animal attractions. Why should animals have to suffer for human enjoyment? It all seemed very out of place, especially as the majority of the UK public are opposed to the use of live animals in circuses; I don’t see this kind of animal use as any different, and honestly, it was very uncomfortable to see.

Reindeer, penguins, camels, owls, donkeys and Shetland ponies are animals we have observed being used for festive events this year. Please complain to events which feature animals and report any events you hear about to sarah@captiveanimals.org

Visit our campaign page to find out more:  ‘Rudolph’s Christmas Wish’

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