It’s Time for the MoD to Embrace Faux Fur

Posted by on July 28, 2010 | Permalink

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) recently released a statement claiming that for the past several years, the skins used to make The Queen’s Guards’ distinctive bearskin caps now come from brown bears, not black ones. Sometime during the course of PETA’s campaign, they say, a switch was made.

One might well ask, “So what?” It is unlikely that bears care what colour they are when they are being shot for their hides, and it makes no difference to PETA if the MoD are using the skins from black, brown or, for that matter, tangerine-coloured bears. Bears are bears. The real question is this: Why are any bears killed for their fur when in this, the 21st century, the MoD can switch to a synthetic material – one that makes not only a stunningly impressive cap but also one so lightweight that fewer Guards will pass out while on parade?

In the United States, presidential candidate Representative Dennis Kucinich ran on a platform that included creating a Department of Peace. That was a lot to ask, and he didn’t win the election. However, American tourists who come to watch the Guards in their sentry boxes or marching about on the Mall are among those who wrinkle their noses, as do British schoolchildren, when told the fur on the caps is still real animal fur.  The vast majority of the British public opposes needless violence, from violence in our schools and streets to the slaughter of wildlife for nothing more than a ceremonial headpiece. In fact, the results of a YouGov poll commissioned by PETA found that only 14 per cent of Britons are in favour of the continued use of real fur for The Queen’s Guards’ caps.

Two years ago, PETA, in collaboration with former MP Ann Widdecombe, hosted a screening of shocking video footage taken during a bear hunt in Canada – which is where the fur for The Queen’s Guards’ caps originates. The complete disregard for life documented in this footage would appal any decent person and should cause the MoD to run screaming from any association with such wanton carnage.

The footage includes shots of a hungry mother bear being lured to a bait site, only to be gunned down for her fur – leaving her cub orphaned. “Baiting” bears in this way is both cowardly and cruel. Ironically, it is illegal in Canada to kill bears who visit local dumps in search of food, but intentionally luring bears to bait sites is still permitted in some areas.

Killing a mother bear is also a death sentence for her cubs, who depend upon her for everything. Wildlife biologists estimate 70 per cent of bear cubs who are orphaned will die within a year – succumbing to starvation, exposure or predation.

The video also shows that many bears are shot multiple times, and many do not die right away. Some bears escape, wounded, only to face a slow, agonising death from blood loss, gangrene, dehydration or infection. No animal deserves to be subjected to such cruelty.

For the past several years, Stella McCartney and Canadian eco-designer Atom Cianfarani have been working with PETA to develop a faux-fur cap that will pass the MoD’s rigorous water-resistance tests. PETA is encouraged that the prototype cap we presented at a recent meeting with Peter Luff, Minister for Defence Equipment, Support and Technology, and other senior officials, has passed water-resistance tests carried out by the MoD’s own testing facility.

As the designers point out, synthetic fur is less expensive than real fur (and in this case, PETA, not the government, is paying to develop a faux-fur option that will be acceptable to the MoD). However, given that the hide of up to one entire bear is used for each headpiece produced for the Royal Guards, to the British animal-loving public the real benefit is that no animals will have been killed to make the new caps.

We are encouraged by the Minister’s interest, and we look forward to working with him and his colleagues on a new cap. For hundreds of magnificent bears in Canada, the situation is critical.