Children told dead ‘reindeer’ had returned to North Pole

Staff at a Santa’s grotto were forced to tell families that its ‘reindeer’ had to return to the North Pole after poachers shot three of the animals dead during the night.

The Santa’s Journey experience at Djouce Golf Club in Roundwood, Co. Wicklow, had been keeping three Sika deer in the ‘Reindeer Way’ section of its attraction – which has been open since November.

Last Saturday, when staff came to work at the Christmas experience – which includes a train ride around Santa’s runway and workshop, among other sights – they found the three deer missing from their pen, which was awash with blood. 

The three Sika deer went missing from their enclosure in the Santa’s Journey experience at Djouce Golf Club in Roundwood, Co. Wicklow, but blood and bullets were found nearby.

Speaking to the Irish Daily Mail yesterday, manager Keith Whelan said it was a ‘cruel experience’ for anyone to come to work and discover this.

He said: ‘We are really disappointed, the train goes through the golf club and the reindeer enclosure is part of it. 

‘We came in Saturday and they were gone. We thought they escaped but then we found blood and bullets.

‘The three of them were killed and then they were taken away. It was a very cruel experience.’

However, the event was still able to continue – as a new deer, named Prancer, was sourced to greet the children. 

Speaking about the shooting of the three deer, Mr Whelan said the Christmas event – which is in its first year, and finishes up today – is a child-focused affair ‘so it was a horrible thing to do’.

He continued: ‘It really upset us. There was a bullet in the pen – really this is a children’s day out so it’s not nice at all, but thankfully everyone had continued to enjoy the experience.’

Children were told that the 'reindeer' had to go back to the North Pole for a training day with Santa to cover up the animal's deaths

Children were told that the ‘reindeer’ had to go back to the North Pole for a training day with Santa to cover up the animal’s deaths

The two male and one female deer were sourced by the company running the Santa experience. When children arrived at the golf club on Saturday, staff had to tell them that the missing ‘reindeer’ had had to return to Santa’s grotto to help him.

Mr Whelan said: ‘Thankfully, that’s the magic of Christmas and we can say those things, but it means we had to source another deer, and thankfully we now have Prancer to meet the children.’

However, he added that ‘we have to get a security guard to watch Prancer and at night we have had to move him to a safer place to ensure this doesn’t happen again’. 

Yesterday, Prancer sat patiently in his pen eating carrots as the children watched.

Speaking about the culprits, Mr Whelan added: ‘To come to a children’s event is horrific. It is challenging because you have little kids arriving and disappointed children, but when they heard they were on a training day with Santa it was okay. 

‘This happened during the night when the event wasn’t open and we don’t want people to be frightened.’

He said the gardaí have treated the matter very seriously.

Paul Cullen who hand-reared the deer, was reported to have described the shooting as ‘shoddy behaviour’. He said: ‘There was a 6ft fence around them and netting. There is no way, even with a lamp, from the road you would have thought they were wild deer roaming the course. 

‘There is also loads of lights and a big sign saying “Santa’s Journey”.’

In a statement, gardaí said they were investigating the incident.

A spokesperson said: ‘No arrests have been made and the investigation is ongoing.’