Overseen by the agency's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the clearance ensures only healthy animals will be coming into the country to help deliver Christmas gifts.
The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced it has issued a transit permit to S. Nicholas Claus of the North Pole, a distributor with Gifts and Good Cheer, Inc. The permit will allow reindeer to enter and exit the United States between the hours of 6 PM on December 24, 2023, and 6 AM on December 25, 2023, local time, through or over any US border port.1
APHIS regulates the movement of cervids, including reindeer, to protect the health of America’s livestock population. The permitting process provides assurance that only healthy animals enter the United States.1
"USDA is delighted to grant Mr. Claus and his reindeer a special permit to enter the United States, ensuring a seamless journey for the joy they bring each holiday season," said Jenny Lester Moffitt, under secretary for marketing and regulatory programs, in an agency news release.1 "We extend a warm welcome to Mr. Claus and recognize the vital role of US milk and cookies in fueling his festive flight."
Veterinary officials with the USDA ensured the reindeer met all entry requirements before issuing the permit. “At a recent inspection, the reindeer were found to be healthy and able to prance and paw with each hoof,” said Rosemary Sifford, DVM, chief veterinary officer, USDA.1
It was noted on the health certificate that one reindeer, Rudolph, has a minor physical anomaly. However, APHIS indicated that Rudolph’s red nose, while bright, was normal for him and not a concern.1
The team of 9 reindeer has also received a bill of good health from animal care experts with the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), which cleared them for the Christmas Eve flight. "While this may be an out-of-the-ordinary visit, ensuring that these magical and magnificent animals are fit for their important journey reflects the vital work veterinarians and their teams perform every day around the world to ensure the health and safety of animals and people," said Rena Carlson, DVM, AVMA president, in an organizational release.2
The AVMA conducts an annual exam at the North Pole to give a health check to each reindeer about a month before Christmas Eve. Carlson and Ashli Selke, RVT, CVT, immediate-past president of the National Association of Veterinary Technicians of America, examined them to ensure they were healthy and not presenting with any signs of disease that can affect their ability to fly or animals and people they could encounter such as brucellosis, chronic wasting disease, and tuberculosis. Carlson and Selke closely also inspected each reindeer’s fur for signs of lesions or parasites as well as their eyes, noses, legs, and hooves before the AVMA issued a North Pole Certificate of Animal Export.2
The reindeer will arrive in the US pulling a wooden sleigh with jingling bells attached, filled with brightly wrapped gifts, according to the USDA. Port personnel will clean and disinfect the runners and underside of the sleigh at the time of entry and conduct a short visual inspection of the reindeer. Claus has been asked to disinfect his boots and thoroughly wash his hands. These measures are intended to prevent the entry of any livestock diseases the team may encounter during deliveries to farms and houses around the world prior to entering the United States.1
Claus also provided an advance list of what port personnel should expect upon their arrival. This includes a variety of food items, all of which come from approved locations and none of which pose a threat to US animal or plant health.1
“It’s important that Gifts and Good Cheer, Inc. take all the right steps and precautions to protect against the potential introduction of pests and diseases,” explained Claus, in the release.1 “I appreciate USDA’s assistance every year as we gear up for our big night.”