Santa’s reindeer in Sunderland

Reindeer arrive at Mowbray Park.
Reindeer arrive at Mowbray Park.
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HAVE you ‘herd’ that Santa’s helpers are in town?

The weather outside may be frightful, but it’s nothing to the latest visitors to Mowbray Park.

Reindeer arrive at Mowbray Park.

Reindeer arrive at Mowbray Park.

Eco, Moose, Jagger, Marley and Diamond can survive in temperatures as low as minus 70°C and don’t even feel the cold until the thermometer dips to minus 30°C.

Today and tomorrow, from 10am to 8pm, is the last time to catch the festive five, who are proving a star attraction at the city centre park, before they head off to help Santa deliver his presents on Monday night.

{CLICK HERE to read about Sunderland’s runaway reindeer in 2010 and watch a video|CLICK HERE to read about Sunderland’s runaway reindeer in 2010 and watch a video|}

During the rest of the year they live in the Cairngorms in Scotland as part of Britain’s only free-ranging reindeer herd.

Reindeer herder Anna Jemmett said: “They are lovely to work with, they are really gentle animals. Reindeer have been domesticated for a long time, longer than cats and dogs, so it’s in their nature to be gentle.

“The reindeer live on the mountains for the most-part of the year but at Christmas they tour around Britain. The four older boys have done it before, but for Diamond, the calf, this is his first time. They usually have their first outing at about six months old to get them used to it, then they won’t do it again until they’re an adult.”

The reindeer herd hit the national headlines in 2010 when a runaway Rudolph bolted from Mowbray Park and made a bid for freedom through Hendon.

“That was Gnu,” Anna said. “He still does Christmas events and is in Liverpool at the moment. He’s usually very calm but he was frightened by a dog that got into the pen on that occasion.

“We’ve had a few escapes over the year but the one in Sunderland was probably the most dramatic.”

Anna looks after the herd all year round and says they are a pleasure to work with.

“The herd was first brought over in 1952 by a Swedish reindeer herder,” she explained. “But British people don’t like reindeer meat so they became kept for Christmas events. “We have 150 in the herd now and once they are born they stay with us for life, we never cull them. Each has a name and their own personality.

“It’s lovely bringing them out on Christmas events. They really help to make Christmas special, especially for kids.”

Twitter: @sunechokaty

Reindeer facts

Reindeer and caribou are the same species

Every reindeer, regardless of sex or age, grows a new set of antlers every year.

Ice and snow are no problem. Reindeer have thick winter coats for Arctic life.

Nomadic tribes throughout Arctic Scandinavia and Russia have domesticated reindeer.

During May and June the calves are born. Very precocious, they grow quickly.

Edible mushrooms, lichens and Arctic vegetation are the favourite food of reindeer.

Extra wide, splayed hooves enable reindeer to spread weight on soft snow to prevent them sinking.

Reindeer have a short, dark summer coat and thick, lighter coloured winter coat.