While Dasher, Dancer, Prancer and Vixen are all gearing up for the big event next week, reindeer are currently on display at London Zoo, in a festive paddock alongside Santa’s Grotto. “Reindeer are quite calm animals and we work closely with them,” explains Reindeer Keeper Nick Garrett, who has been looking after the herd for over two years. “We walk them around the zoo, although we have to be careful with larger animals, especially those with antlers.”
“All of the reindeer have quite different personalities,” Garrett continues, “Flora doesn’t really like to be brushed for example, but Igna loves being pampered. I’ve never seen any accidents while working with the reindeer but you can tell when they rub their antlers together that they are potentially dangerous.” Garrett starts work at 8am, which is open to the public until 4pm each day. The reindeer sleep in a stable inside their enclosure. “Growing up, I always wanted to be a zoo keeper. I started working at London zoo when I graduated and I’ve been here ever since.”
"All of the reindeer have quite different personalities – Flora doesn’t really like to be brushed for example, but Igna loves being pampered"
Also known as Caribou in North America, reindeer are a species of deer native to Arctic and Subarctic regions. Reindeer were first incorporated into the story of Christmas in 1821 when New York printer William Gilley published a sixteen-page booklet titled A New Year’s Present. In a later interview, he would describe them as both "feared and honoured". The nine reindeer known to fly Santa’s sleigh were named in 1823 poem A Visit from St Nicholas (more commonly known as The Night Before Christmas) by Clement C. Moore.
“I would say my favourite festive place in London is the zoo itself,” advises Garratt. “There is usually a nice build up to Christmas and we often make decorations on our lunch breaks for our mess room.” His advice for anybody yet to find their Christmas spirit? “Go and drink some mulled wine with your friends and family.”
Text by Mhairi Graham