Little donkey: Live nativity scenes raise animal welfare concerns

Animals rights groups have raised concerns over the welfare of animals used in live nativity scenes across Spain.

Little donkey: Live nativity scenes raise animal welfare concerns
Archive photo of a live nativity scene. Photo: AFP

Dozens of councils stage ‘living nativity scenes’ using local volunteers and farm animals to recreate the iconic Bethlehem scene in the run up to Christmas.

But despite their popularity, a growing number of people in Spain believe it's time to drop the use of animals in the scenes.

“The animals are out of their usual habitat and can suffer with the noise, bright lights and the crowds,” said Tamara de Prado, head of animal protection charity, Apadat, in Toledo.

Her organisation has launched a campaign to close the traditional living nativity scene organised by the Caja Rural bank in Toledo  for the last 30 years which this year involves some 70 animals.

Some 32,000 people have already signed the petition calling for its closure on

 Meanwhile, in Cuevas del Almanzorain Almeria province of southern Spain, organizers of the live nativity scene were investigated after reports that a donkey showed signs of mistreatment while taking part.

Two years ago, a young donkey in a nativity scene in Lucena, near Cordoba, was killed when an overweight Spaniard sat on it for a joke.

The 150kg man crushed the donkey by sitting on it. Photo: El Refugio del Burrito

The man was arrested. and charged but the case was kicked out of court earlier this year when a judge ruled “it did not constitute a crime”.

Last year, animal rights party Pacma brought a complaint against organizers in Tenerife who used 15 camels as part of the nativity scene after they were transported to the site in unsuitable conditions.

“Ideally we would like stop all animals being used in such festivities,” said Laura Duarte, spokeswoman for the party.

Several councils have outlawed the use of animals in their Christmas scenes including Madrid, Barcelona, ​​Zaragoza, Valencia, A Coruña and Cadiz.

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‘Gratuitous cruelty’: Spain probes suspected abuse at animal testing lab

Spanish police and prosecutors said Monday they were investigating an animal testing lab after undercover footage showed staff there tossing around, smacking and taunting dogs, pigs and other animals.

'Gratuitous cruelty': Spain probes suspected abuse at animal testing lab
Handout: Cruelty Free International

“We were dismayed to see the images,” the head of the government’s directorate-general for animal protection, Sergio Garcia Torres, told AFP.

“It is a blatant case of animal abuse.”

Footage published Thursday by Cruelty Free International shows appears to show animals at the Vivotecnia animal testing facility being cut into apparently without having received anaesthetics.

Staff were also filmed swinging dogs and rats around and in one clip someone is drawing a face on a monkey’s genitals as the animal is pinned to a table.

The group said the footage was taken by a whistleblower who worked at the facility, which is on the outskirts of Madrid, between 2018 and 2020.

“There can be no doubt that such gratuitous cruelty causes unnecessary distress and suffering,” the animal rights group said in a statement.

“It is also unlawful.”

Police and public prosecutors said Monday they had opened separate investigations into Vivotecnia, which carries out experiments on animals for the pharmaceutical, cosmetic and food industries.

The company’s phone number was no longer working on Monday and its web site was down for maintenance.

In a statement cited by Spanish media, Vivotecnia chief executive Andres Konig said he was “shocked” at the images. But, he added, they did not “demonstrate the day-to-day reality at Vivotecnia”.

Following the outcry caused by the release of the footage, the Madrid regional government on Sunday temporarily halted activity at the animal testing facility.

Animal rights political party PACMA has filed a lawsuit against the managers of the company and urged the government to step up its supervision of animal testing.

“It’s a very opaque world and it could be that this is happening regularly without us knowing,” PACMA president Laura Duarte told AFP.

The Vivotecnia laboratory animals were examined by veterinarians and are being moved to other facilities.