Portfolio of Hope

brown grizzly bear on black metal fence

Despite the UK public’s disdain for fur products (over 90% of the U.K. public refuse to wear fur), and the UK government themselves having legislated against trophy hunting, we continue to see bearskin being used in the production of the King’s Guard’s hats today.

The UK government have legislated against trophy hunting, the shooting of wild animals for ‘in-home-display’, and yet, we have a Ministry of Defence (which is a part of the UK government) whose uniform consists of bearskin hats, and who therefore pay for bears to be captured and killed for their pleasure.

The King’s Guard’s hats are made from the fur of black bears killed by recreational hunters in Canada. During spring hunts, mother bears with nursing cubs are shot, sometimes several times before they escape, only to bleed to death… In fact, as many as one bear in seven will die slowly from blood loss or starvation. It is rarely an instant death, and certainly not painless. The culling of mother bears leads to the eradication of entire families for, when mother bears are killed, their cubs are orphaned and left to starve.

The fact that we allow such abhorrent acts to take place in the name of ‘tradition’, undermines the government’s proposed stance on trophy hunting because, what they are doing is just as bad- creating a demand for the bears’ fur and fuelling the slaughter, by continuing to import the wholly unnecessary bearskins for ornamental hats.

PETA are calling on the Ministry of Defence to put a stop to this and to replace the bearskins with faux fur, a valid request considering that luxury faux fur, ECOPEL, meets all of the MoD’s requirements. ECOPEL is high-performing, humane material which looks and functions just as real bear fur does. It is indistinguishable in fact, the only difference being that a bear hasn’t had to be killed for it…

As Kirsty Gallacher, British TV presenter and supporter of PETA’s faux fur campaign so eloquently puts it;

‘Fur belongs to the animals who were born with it. Tradition is no excuse for violence, and by embracing this faux fur alternative created by PETA and ECOPEL, the Ministry of Defence would allow this national symbol to endure in a way that reflects modern society and its values.’

What’s more, ECOPEL has offered the Ministry of Defence an unlimited amount of the material free of charge until 2030 — a move that could save over £1 million of taxpayer money. And, with over 75% of Brits considering bearskin caps a “bad use of government funds”, it would certainly be a welcome move…

PETA started a petition in 2022 encouraging people to express their disdain at the UK government’s continued use of real bearskins used for the Queen’s Guards (now the King’s Guards) caps. Having secured (and surpassed) the 100,000 signatures needed in order for the debate to go to parliament, it did become a topic of debate in the House of Commons in July 2022, however, the response given by the Ministry of Defence was, in short, unsatisfactory.

The Response…

‘Bears are never hunted to order for use by the MOD. Our suppliers source pelts made available by the Canadian authorities following a licenced cull as part of a programme to manage the wild bear population; Provincial, territorial, federal and international laws provide strict trade regulations to protect against unlawful trade in black bears both within Canada and internationally.

Bear pelts that are used for the Queen’s Guards ceremonial caps are the by-products of these licenced culls, as opposed to fur being harvested from an animal being bred for this sole purpose. Therefore, any reduction in the number of bearskins procured by the MOD would not equate to a reduction in the numbers of bears being culled.

Guardsmen take great pride in wearing the bearskin cap which is an iconic image of Britain. It must look smart but also be practical for the guardsman to wear in wet or dry weather. The material it is made from must therefore meet the five required criteria. MOD do use man made alternatives in their uniforms where these provide suitable, affordable and sustainable alternative to animal products. For example the smaller busby hats worn by the King’s Troop are made from faux fur. Unfortunately, there is currently no non-animal alternative available that meet the essential criterion for the Queen’s Guards ceremonial caps.

A man-made fabric manufactured by Ecopel was passed to an independent testing house by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), and those results were shared with the MOD. However, our analysis of the results shows that it does not in fact reach the standards needed to provide an effective replacement for our bearskin ceremonial caps.

Analysis of these recent tests conducted on the fake fur fabric showed it met only one of the five requirements to be considered as a viable alternative for ceremonial caps. Whilst it met the basic standard for water absorption, it showed unacceptable rates of water shedding and performed poorly on the visual assessment. As the artificial fur sadly didn’t meet the standards required for a ceremonial cap which is worn throughout the year and in all weathers, the MOD has no plans to take this fake fur fabric forward.

As well as passing initial laboratory tests, any new fabric would have to meet with user approval for shape and comfort for a parade length of duty. It would look at whether the fabric could maintain its shape over time, whether it is comfortable and safe for the user — including ensuring any waterproof backing is breathable — whether the faux fur is waterproof after the shaping, sewing and perforation that would be involved and consideration would also be given to its sustainability compared to the current natural fur fabric.’

Now, there are a number of counterarguments that I would make in response to the MoD’s response as shown above. Firstly, in their statement regarding bears being killed as part of Canadian government culls, PETA has found no evidence that any culls of this sort exist in any province or territory of Canada. In reality, hunters obtain permits to bait and kill bears for ‘sport’, then sell their fur to auction houses to fulfil the demand for, at least in part, the Ministry of Defence. It can take the entire hide of one bear to make just one hat.

Very much about ‘supply and demand’, if the Ministry of Defence stop demanding bearskin hats and move to the faux fur alternative, (which is proven to perform just as well, if not better than real fur), then the demand for bear fur will be decreased, thus meaning that fewer bears will be killed as a result. Because, despite for decades claiming that the bears are killed anyway as part of Canadian government ‘culls’, as a freedom of information request confirmed, the Ministry of Defence have no proof of this being the case. In fact, they have admitted that they have no information about the supply chain of fur at all, that they purchase finished caps (i.e., that they have no evidence that denies the slaughtering of bears for entirely unjustifiable reasons)…

Furthermore, all the MoD’s comments surrounding ‘no non-animal alternatives being available to meet the criterion for the caps’ is also dismissible. The proposed faux fur alternative, ECOPEL, was tested in a laboratory and was confirmed to perform as well as, if not better than, the real bear fur in all five areas specified by the MoD: water penetration, water absorption, compression, drying rate, and appearance. 100% waterproof with an appearance that is virtually indistinguishable from real bear fur, and lighter than real bear fur translating to enhanced user comfort, the decision to keep using real fur when a viable alternative is available is completely nonsensical.

bearskin hats

Despite promising to replace the bearskins used for the King’s Guard’s ornamental caps once a suitable material had been found, and having lab results sent confirming PETA’s proposed faux bear fur to be ‘suitable’, the Ministry of Defence continue to look the other way and refuse to make the humane switch to faux fur.

By refusing to make good of their promise to replace bearskin once a suitable material had been found (refusing by failing to even review the test results that prove the suitability of faux fur), the Ministry of Defence are ultimately wasting taxpayer money (more than a million dollars’ worth of U.K. taxpayers’ money has been spent on these cruelly produced caps in the past seven years), and costing countless bears their lives.

And so, the question is, what is the Ministry of Defence actually waiting for? With new material ready and waiting to be used- PETA have offered to pay for new laboratory testing to be done at an MoD-accredited facility so that both sides can work together, and ECOPEL have offered to supply the Ministry of Defence with an unlimited amount of the faux fur free of charge until 2025, the Ministry of Defence are senselessly continuing to use real fur, so as not to ‘break tradition’ (what a sad reason for bears to be killed, because we don’t want to ‘break tradition’)…

With a new Defence Minister (as of August 2023), PETA are calling on people to sign this petition, to ask Grant Shapps to use his power to end the use of bear fur in the making of ornamental headpieces, and to have ceremonial caps fashioned from luxurious faux fur instead.

Serving no military purpose, purely ‘ornamental’, black bears are being killed in vain.

Can you help? Please consider signing the petition, as linked above, to help PETA in their efforts to outlaw the inhumane suffering of bears at the hands of the Ministry of Defence.

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