A “shocking” photo from a Christmas fair in Kent of a reindeer so thin its ribs are clearly visible, has prompted a flood of concern on social media.
The RSPCA are now investigating after the “clearly undernourished” animal was photographed at a festive event at Swallows Leisure Centre on Sunday.
The venue defended including the reindeer as part of the fair, saying the “care of the animals was paramount in our consideration for including them within our festive event”.
The animal was booked through the Reindeer Centre, which said it has others “of a similar build and body shape to the one that attended yesterday and are in very good health”.
Images posted online led many to question the animal’s health.
One person wrote on Facebook: “That’s not good. If he was fed the correct diet he would not look like that.
“There’s a special diet for older horses that meets their needs it would be the same for an elderly reindeer.”
Another concerned poster wrote: “Absolutely shocking, why do these places feel the need to exploit animals for human entertainment. Reindeer suffer problems in captivity due to our climate, this is a proven fact.
“Even if that poor creature was very old, he should be retired from this cruel degrading work.”
Some concerned animal lovers posted photos showing the “big difference” between the reindeer in the photo and those in the wild.
More than 1,500 people attended Sunday’s event in Sittingbourne which featured live music, stalls an ice rink, Kent Live reports.
Swallows Leisure Centre said in a statement posted on Facebook: “Following concerns that some customers had regarding the weight of one of the reindeer at the recent Swallows Leisure Centre Christmas Fayre, we would like to stress that the care of the animals was paramount in our consideration for including them within our festive event.
“We booked through a company called the Reindeer Centre and before proceeding all appropriate documentation was sought, including a certificate of registration for performing animals and full animal welfare statements.
“We have now contacted the owners of the Reindeer Centre to voice the concerns raised.”
Swallows Leisure Centre said the Reindeer Centre told them: “The reindeers that came were a 10-year-old male and two 6-month-old reindeers.
“We have a number of reindeers that are aged between 10 and 15 years old and they are of a similar build and body shape to the one that attended yesterday and are in very good health.
“At the event the reindeers had fresh straw and water and the 10-year-old was eating carrots from the member of the public, with our supervision.
“This would indicate that the reindeer is in good condition.”
A RSPCA spokesman said: “We are aware of concerns about a reindeer that has appeared at festive events in the Ashford area recently and are looking into this.”
Commenting on the wider issue of reindeer at Christmas events, RSPCA senior scientific manager in wildlife Dr Ros Clubb, said: “As Christmas approaches, we and other animal welfare charities are really concerned that reindeer used in festive events across the country could be suffering in silence.“Reindeer are not easy to keep well.
“They get stressed very easily and are very susceptible to many health and welfare problems when kept in permanent captivity in the UK, particularly in more southern areas.
“In the wild reindeers are prey animals so they naturally hide their illnesses. So many owners may not realise they are poorly or be able to spot the problems until it is too late.
“These animals 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.”