The government spent more than £1m of taxpayer money in seven years on bear fur hats for the military, official figures show.
From 2014 to 2019, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) bought a total of 891 caps for the Queen’s Guard, according to data given to animal-rights organisation Peta, which said up to 1,000 bear could have died in the process of making the hats.
Ceremonial bearskin hats are made from the skins of Canadian black bears, which are often suffer slow deaths after being shot, Peta says. It claims at least one bear is killed for each hat made – or more if a mother with cubs is targeted.
The MoD purchases cost £1,076,149 in total over the seven years.
The department told Peta that last year it bought 110 bearskin caps at a cost of £145,000. Previous purchases, according to Freedom of Information Act replies, were:
- 2019: 92 caps, costing £127,440
- 2018: 61 caps, costing £76,206
- 2017: 172 caps, costing £201,071
- 2016: 207 caps, costing £240,382
- 2015: 122 caps, costing £149,379
- 2014: 127 caps, costing £136,671
Actor Pamela Anderson has written to Boris Johnson urging him to replace the bearskin caps after a faux-fur company based in France, Ecopel, offered to provide the MoD with artificial bear fur free of charge until 2030.
“[It’s] outrageous that the caps worn by the Queen’s Guard – a British icon – are still made from the fur of bears who are killed in my native Canada,” she wrote.
“Please instruct the Ministry of Defence to make the switch to cruelty-free faux fur. Peta and Ecopel have provided the solution. It would be unconscionable not to take it.”
As mayor of London six years ago, Boris Johnson said he would be open to using fake fur hats if it might “help save a few bears”, according to The Telegraph.
During black bear hunts, up to one in seven escapes wounded and dies slowly from blood loss or starvation, Peta says.
And if a nursing mother bear is killed, entire families die because the cubs cannot fend for themselves.
Designer Stella McCartney has previously offered to create new faux fur hats for the MoD, but it’s believed her offer was declined.
Peta senior campaigns manager Kate Werner said: “There is no excuse for the Ministry of Defence to continue funding the slaughter of black bears – and the prime minister must put a stop to it.
“The humane, high-performing faux fur created by Ecopel gives a nod to tradition while preventing sensitive bears from being viciously slaughtered for their fur.”
The organisation sent a person in dressed as a bear in the faux skin to Downing Street to call on the prime minister to make the switch.
Ecopel says its fabric looks and functions exactly like real bearskin. The artificial material offered matches the exact length of real bear fur and is easily rendered 100 per cent waterproof, the designers say.
An Army spokesperson said: “The bearskins worn by the Guards are part of our proud military history and identity. There are no suitable alternatives.
“These bearskins, like leather, horn and sheepskin are by-products of other purposes and should not be confused with fur farming.
“Guards’ bearskins are sourced from the by-product of a necessary cull of black bears in Canada. The bears are not bred for the purpose of fur.”
Bearskins are worn by the five regiments of Foot Guards: Grenadiers, Coldstream, Scots, Irish and Welsh. The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, Fusilier Regiments and the Infantry part of the Honourable Artillery Company wear a full-sized bearskin cap in full dress.
Buying real animal fur is still legal in the UK, even though the government has come under intense pressure to outlaw imports as fur farms are banned in Britain.
Earlier this year ministers launched a call for evidence on the implications of a block on importing and selling real fur.
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