Column: Reindeer should not be domesticated

Guide your own sleigh, Santa!

We may put carrots and biscuits out for them on Christmas Eve, but we have long lacked the respect for and appreciation of reindeer that they deserve. These creatures, which naturally belong in the wild, have become victims not only of habitat loss due to drastic human intervention, but also of domestication. Described as gentile and cautious, we have taken advantage of these animals by using them for our own gain.

Though reindeer used to have ample room to live and reproduce in, the impact of human development is tragically degrading their habitat and could eventually lead to catastrophe. Moreover, illegal poaching in Northern Europe has become a huge issue facing reindeer as they strive to persevere. Soon, Rudolph could be a distant memory, all because we as a society value industry and infrastructure over the survival of animals.

While reindeer once roamed freely in places such as Norway, more and more frequently people domesticate them as farm animals, a concept that never really catches mainstream media attention even though it certainly hinders their quality of life. Experts in the field have even asserted that the mere presence of humans makes reindeer anxious; putting them through domestication and forcing them to live as farm animals, therefore, causes harm that need not exist.

Even more alarming for these creatures is the intense marketization they have been forced into in the last few centuries. As the Christmas holiday becomes ever-increasingly commercial, reindeer have been in higher demand than ever before. Virtually everyone knows the story of Santa’s reindeer guiding his sleigh every Christmas Eve, delivering presents to children around the world. But in our profit-driven society, many people, groups, and companies view live reindeer as props for their holiday festivities. The business world has noticed this demand, and many companies now operate reindeer rental services, where individuals or groups can actually rent reindeer for a specified amount of time.

It may not sound completely horrible on the surface: having a real reindeer at a Christmas party seems like it could be a lot of fun. However, what happens when those reindeer aren’t properly cared for both at the event and when they return to where they are kept? Because there are very few regulations, there isn’t really anyone looking out for these reindeer when they are rented out.

In 2010, a reindeer that was being kept in a Christmas tree lot in California made an attempt to escape, only to be captured around the neck by a rancher. These animals clearly do not want to be contained; they deserve the freedom that they have done nothing to violate.

We tend to only think of reindeer during the Christmas season, when commercial images of them guiding Santa’s sleigh overwhelm store windows. Even then, we do not stop and think about the implications of exploiting them for entertainment. We need to stop making these creatures into a marketable product, and start treating them for what they are: living, breathing, fragile animals.  

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