Animal rights activists are determined not to give council chiefs an easy ride - branding the borough’s annual Christmas camel parade a ‘cruel’ and ‘degrading spectacle’.
The Northern Animal Welfare Co-operative - a group set up in 2013 to protest against animal cruelty - has gathered more than 1,000 supporters for a petition calling for the council-run event to ditch the animals this year.
Camels have been used as the colourful centrepiece of South Shields’ festive celebrations for the last three years.
Council chiefs say the public response to the parade has been ‘overwhelmingly positive’ and the animals receive the highest standards of care from specialist handlers.
They have been backed by a religious leader whose church is at the heart of the town’s yuletide celebrations.
Last month’s event saw a trio of camels ridden along Ocean Road by three wise men in a tribute to the traditional Christmas story, while a 7,000-strong crowd was entertained by an array of street entertainment and fireworks.
Concerned campaigners say the use of animals in the parade ‘has no place’ in a modern society and sends out a dangerous message that animals can be used as a form of entertainment. The petition has now attracted over 1,150 signatures.
Jay Lord, chairman of NAWC, said: “The petition was set up by one of our members and there has been a strong outpouring of support for our call to have the parade abolished.
“It is totally unnecessary. It sends out a message to the younger generation that it is acceptable to use animals in anyway we see appropriate for our entertainment.
“The camel is not native to this country. To parade them in a winter wonderland spectacle is degrading and it causes the animal stress to be in a lively, busy atmosphere, in the cold.
Father Chris Fuller, of St Hilda’s Church, which has been a focal point of Christmas celebrations thanks to a Winter Wonderland display on its grounds, hopes the Camel Parade returns for years to come.
He said he had received assurances from the council over the treatment of the animals when the parade first came to town in 2013.
He said: “I think it is a brilliant event for the town. I spoke to the council when the parade was first launched and they reassured me the animals are well looked after and that vets are involved to ensure their wellbeing.
“It is a lovely event. I was surprised at first at how calm the camels are when they are in public.”
A South Tyneside Council spokesman said: “We would like to reassure the public that the firm we used in our recent Christmas programme was a specialist, reputable company with the highest standards in animal welfare and training and an outstanding track record for events across the country.
“The camels come from a long line of domesticated animals living in the UK, and far from being wild and reclusive, they are intelligent and naturally curious. They are well looked after by their handlers who have more than 40 years’ experience. The company which provided the camels also supports the Wild Camel Protection Foundation.
“On the day of the parade, the camels were in the care of their handlers at all times to ensure the safety of both the animals and members of the public.
“We had an overwhelmingly positive response to the event with an attendance of more than 7,000 people – up on the previous year. As yet, no decisions have been made about this year’s Christmas programme.”
People can view the petition at www.change.org/p/leader-of-south-tyneside-council-animals-are-not-for-our-entertainment.