LOCAL animal welfare groups have jumped to action after footage of reindeer being kept in poor conditions for Christmas displays went viral on social media.

Darlington Vegan Society will be holding a demonstration at Raby Castle's Festive Market Weekend, warning people against attending Christmas events that feature reindeer.

Kathy Barley, of Darlington Vegan Society, said: “Reindeer are quiet, herding animals who would naturally shy away from people, noise and lights. In their natural environment they roam over vast distances.

"To be used for entertainment, most of their natural behaviour is denied to them, and they are subjected to continual stress.

“We know now through our own observations, and also through science, that many animals suffer at the hands of humans for entertainment, and we don't need to do it. Christmas events can be wonderful experiences without the need to exploit animals.

“Children who see animals used in these ways will grow up thinking that animals are there for our entertainment, rather than being taught to respect all life and enjoy all life as it's meant to be, in its natural environment.”

The campaign is in the wake of an investigation led by Animal Aid where videos of farms that hire out reindeer for seasonal events were shared online - showing reindeer being kicked by handlers, kept in small, concrete paddocks, covered in faeces and looking underfed.

Animal Aid warned that, although not all reindeer are kept in these conditions, using live animals in festive events means they endure bright lights, noisy crowds and excitable shoppers for long periods.

Tor Bailey, Campaign Manager at Animal Aid, added: “Reindeer are sensitive wild animals, not props to be paraded around and used for human entertainment."

“It is really important to underline that conditions in which the animals are kept can vary greatly but Animal Aid ultimately do not see the necessity of subjecting reindeer to captive displays.”

A spokesperson for Raby Castle said: "We fully support the campaign against cruelty to animals and it saddens us that there are businesses that exploit animal welfare for commercial gain.

"As managers of a large deer herd ourselves, we know what goes into looking after these beautiful creatures. We always complete thorough checks on any supplier we work with to ensure that their standards are as high as ours, and are confident that this is the case with the Reindeer.

"Raby’s deer herd manager has visited the supplier and was impressed by their welfare standards. They are founding members of the British Reindeer Herders Association that has Reindeer breeding, displaying and welfare at its core."

They added: "We understand from the enquiries that we have received that one of the main concerns is that reindeer, un-used to public interaction, are being imported from other countries and travelling hundreds of miles to events.

"We can confirm that the Reindeer visiting Raby are from County Durham, thus reducing their travel time and are bred in County Durham for this purpose. They are fully domesticated, handled regularly and well used to the sort of environment in which they will be displayed."