Animal rights activists have attacked plans to use three live camels to carry the three kings to the big Christmas lights switch on in a Gloucestershire town.
One of the UK’s largest animal rights groups says it would be cruel to walk the camels through Newent in the Forest of Dean because they are naturally shy and retiring animals who hate crowds.
But Joseph’s Amazing Camels are urging town councillors are to stick to their guns when they discuss calls to rethink plans to use as their camels centrepiece of their festive, nativity parade on November 25 on Monday.
They say it’s not cruel and the animals like the fuss.
Traders and other sponsors in the town have agreed to foot the bill to hire the Warwickshire firm which claims to be the only company in the UK specialising in providing camels for racing, polo, rides, trekking and nativity scenes.
Joseph and Rebecca Fossett run the company, which features former Prime Minister David Cameron and Top Gear presenter Richard Hammond on the website which asks: “Imagine the excitement of having a living Nativity at their Christmas event”.
“Three Kings and their Camels will lead a magnificent procession and then be on display.
“The Camels are led by Shepherds and ridden by Kings bearing their gifts. Put Christ back into Christmas at your event. From town centre to school nativities to church events, the camels have done them all. The crowds love them.”
But Animal Aid have written to the Mayor of Newent, June Davies, asking her to reconsider because it claims the animals will be forced to suffer large, noisy crowds and bright lights.
Campaign Manager, Tod Bradbury said: “Not only is it cruel to transport animals the length and breadth of the country, just to display them in stressful situations for the sake of entertainment, it also gives the wrong impression to the public, particularly young children.
“It teaches them that animals can be treated as commodities and decorations, rather than to respect animals as sentient beings.
“Whilst we understand that the aim of the event is to provide joy and Christmas cheer to the people of Newent, this can be achieved without putting the well-being of animals at risk.
“We hope that Newent Town Council make the compassionate decision and cancel the camel parade.”
But Mrs Fossett denied cruelty claiming the camels are now as domesticated as horses and enjoy a fuss being made over them.
“These people who are protesting don’t appear to understand camels and seem to think they are wild animals straight from the desert, which just isn’t true,” she said. “They are domesticated animals, just like horses.
“We have been doing this for 17 years and not had any problems. We’ve just come from a film set and the American Humane Society were very happy with what we were doing. The camels are not even slightly bothered by the crowds and can actually enjoy the fuss.
“It’s a great shame that one or two people who do not understand camels are trying to detract from an event that would give so much pleasure to so many people. I do hope councillors will think about the majority of people who would love to see the camels, many of whom will be children who never have seen one before.”
A deposit of £500 has already been paid to book the camels from the company which has trained staff, comprehensive insurance, a Dangerous Wild Animals and Performance Licences.
A spokeswoman for Newent Town Council said: “We have had the letter from Animal Aid and will be discussing it at the next town council meeting on Monday.”
It’s not the first time the Forest of Dean has sparked a camel row and animal rights activists strongly objected about using Teifet the camel as a mascot for the campaign to save the Dilke Hospital near Cinderford in 2004.
Teifet, was owned by Alastair Fraser of Severnwye Trekking in Woolaston, and died after his last appearance.
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