Interview with reindeer keeper James Cork

PUBLISHED: 06:00 16 December 2016 | UPDATED: 12:34 22 December 2016

James Cork with one of the reindeer

James Cork with one of the reindeer


Paradise Wildlife Park reindeer keeper James Cork on Santa, reindeer babies and the Broxbourne zoo at Christmas

Santa with one of the reindeer at Paradise Wildlife ParkSanta with one of the reindeer at Paradise Wildlife Park

How did you get involved with reindeer – are you really Father Christmas?

I’ve worked at Paradise Wildlife Park for 14 years, including three years volunteering while at college studying animal care. Paradise Wildlife Park was my local zoo while I was growing up and my parents always brought me to see it on school holidays. This is where my love of animals developed.

Over the years, I’ve worked with various animals, but my main interest is large hoofstock like deer, camels and tapirs. I started working on the paddock section at the park 10 years ago, and this is when I started working with the reindeer full time. So although I have a beard, I’m not Santa (his is definitely not ginger).

As well as my daily duties of caring for the animals on the paddock and farm section, I’m head keeper, so it’s also important for me to ensure the welfare of all the animals at the park is kept to a high standard. I manage a team of keepers, support our veterinary team and help to develop breeding programmes and deliver education and ensure the park is enjoyed by our visitors.

Reindeer at Paradise Wildlife ParkReindeer at Paradise Wildlife Park

Where are your reindeer from?

There have been reindeer at Paradise since 1999, when four females were introduced to the collection. These females came from various different collections in the UK. In 2005, a male was introduced from a different collection so that he could breed with the females in the future. We currently have five reindeer at the park, two males and three females, and they live up in the woodland walk area of the zoo.

Do they have different personalities, like Dasher & Rudolph?

Our group of reindeer are very friendly and they enjoy being hand-fed by our visitors with the prepared feed that we sell at the park – although both males and females have antlers, so it’s important always to be aware around them. They do have different personalities. Some like attention more than others, there’s a greedy one, Buzz, and one of our males, Pluto, is very playful.

A reindeer was born at the park last year. how’s she doing?

The baby is a female called Aurora and she is a real mummy’s girl, always staying close to her mum. She was born on June 12 and is growing up to be a lovely-natured animal.

Reindeer breed well in captivity if they are in the right set-up and they can be managed properly. The hardest thing with breeding reindeer is that when the males come in to rut they become very dangerous towards keepers, so I am cautious. The males are just focused on breeding and protecting their females.

Do the reindeer get to see Santa at Christmas?

December is a very busy time for the reindeer and all the visitors love to see them during the Christmas period. Here at the park, our reindeer will be based at Santa’s Grotto on weekends through December and every day during the week leading up to Christmas.

Reindeer round-upfacts

Both male and female reindeer grow antlers, the oReindeer are the only species of deer to do so.

hat both males and female grow antlers.

Reindeer make a clicking nose as they walk, ; this is thought to help them stick together in blindingso that they can stay together during thick snow fall.

Reindeer have a thick coat during the winter months to stop the loss of any body heat.

In the summer, reindeer footpads become sponge-like toand provide extra traction onfor the soft ground. In the winter, they pads shrink and tighten, exposing the hoof rim, which cuts into the ice and snow. It also helps and allows them to dig for food. as well.

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