ANIMAL rights activists are urging a council to cancel a “cruel” reindeer parade planned as part of a town’s Christmas festivities this weekend.

The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has called for a portion of Stockton Sparkles to be stopped to remove the use of Cairngorm deer pulling Santa and his sleigh through the town centre.

In a letter to Stockton Borough Council leader, Councillor Bob Cook, PETA stated the annual parade that runs from the High Street to the Town Hall poses a welfare issue for the animals in an “unsuitable” environment.

This year’s parade, as part of the Stockton Sparkles festivities, is due to begin at 2pm on Saturday, with schools and community groups expected to join the reindeers, Santa and his elves for the walk.

PETA campaigns strategist, Luke Steele, said: “Using live reindeer 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 for the people of Stockton to celebrate the holidays that would be far more in keeping with the Christmas spirit than treating scared animals like decorations.”

Some of the animals expected to be used in parade are part of a herd of around 150 reindeer, managed by The Cairngorm Reindeer Company in the Scottish Highlands.

A PETA spokeswoman added: “In the letter, PETA – whose motto reads, in part, that ‘animals are not ours to use for entertainment’ – notes that a busy attraction such as Stockton Sparkles Reindeer Parade, filled with excited children and other visitors, is an entirely unsuitable environment for reindeer.”

However, Stockton Borough Council has confirmed that animal welfare is not compromised for the entertainment of visitors.

Cllr Cook said: “The Reindeer Parade is a long standing highlight of our popular Stockton Sparkles festival and the Cairngorm Reindeer Company has provided the reindeer for several years.

“Our experience of working with the company is that the animals are well fed, cared for and continuously supervised.

“We fully understand people’s concerns around animal welfare, an issue this council takes very seriously.

“Of course, the well-being of the reindeer is our first consideration and that is why we always act upon the handlers’ advice and expertise when planning our parades to ensure the welfare of the reindeer is not compromised.”