A controversial camel parade is to take place in South Shields again this year.
The parade attracted the biggest crowd of the festive season last year, with more than 8,000 people lining Ocean Road to see drumming group Spark!, the ‘Three Wise Men’ on camels and stilt walking shepherds and bouncing stars, followed by live music and fireworks at South Shields seafront in November 2016.
It will return on Friday, December 1, say South Tyneside Council, as part of the area's Christmas Wonderland programme of events.
Animal welfare group PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) have previously written to the council asking for the use of camels to be cancelled and for them not to be used in live events in future.
A petition against the use of camels at last year's event attracted over 70,000 signatures and South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck supported the campaign.
Council chiefs have said the animals used in the parade will be well looked after.
Councillor Alan Kerr, Deputy Leader of South Tyneside Council, said: “We take great pride in our Christmas Wonderland programme and once again our teams will be pulling out all the stops to make sure this year’s festivities are just as successful with something for everyone to enjoy.
"Businesses really need our support too, especially at this time of year, which is why we are working extremely hard to draw more people into the Borough.
"Events like these go a long way to supporting the local economy.”
Kenneth Reader, owner of The Dunes Adventure Island, said: “The Camel Parade is always a great family event and really well attended if visitor numbers are anything to go by.
"It’s a fantastic boost for us, with people often coming in from the cold and taking advantage of our soft play, Brig Bar and other leisure facilities while in the area.”
Michael Sheeran, operator of Ocean Beach Pleasure Park, supports the event by providing children’s rides as part of the evening’s entertainment.
He said: “Events like these are brilliant for the town in attracting more visitors to the area.
"It has a lively atmosphere with great entertainment and draws so many families along Ocean Road to the seafront area, which really looks fantastic having been regenerated over recent years.”
The Camel Parade is returning for the fourth year, and council bosses say it will feature domesticated camels from a specialist company with the highest standards in animal welfare and training.
The camels are well looked after by their handlers who have more than 40 years’ experience and an outstanding track record for events across the country.
On the day of the parade, a vet is engaged to inspect the animals’ welfare.
They also remain in the care of their handlers at all times to ensure the safety of both the animals and public.
Councillor Kerr added: “The Camel Parade in itself has grown over the years and still remains one of our most popular events.
"However, we are mindful that there have been some concerns in the past about involving live animals in our festive events.
"We want to reassure people that the firm we use has the health and wellbeing of the animals at their heart – this is something that is extremely important to us.”
Michael Minchella, of Minchella & Co, added: “The winter period can be a difficult time for businesses, particularly those near the seafront, so anything that helps to attract more custom in these areas has to be welcomed.
"The Council has also assured us that the camels are extremely well cared for and that all animal welfare legislation is complied with.
“The parade is a huge draw for visitors and I’m sure it will be just as magical as it has been in previous years.”
Other key highlights of this year’s Christmas Wonderland programme include the borough’s three festive lights switch-on events in South Shields (Thursday 23 November), Jarrow (Friday 24 November) and Hebburn (Monday 27 November) town centres.
Families can also enjoy the traditional Civic Carol Concert (Monday 4 December) and Christmas Fair weekend at Haven Point (Saturday 25 – Sunday 26 November) as well as festive activities at The Word, National Centre of the Written Word, lights in the grounds of St Hilda’s Church Gardens as well as school choir performances and town centre entertainment.