Actor Stephen Fry is calling on the British Army’s elite Guards regiments to end the use of fur harvested from bears for their famous headwear, closely associated with popular tourist events such as the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace.
He has narrated a video calling for the end of real fur being used in the bearskin hats worn by the King’s Guard on ceremonial occasions.
These black caps were introduced by the British Army in the late 18th century to make the soldiers appear taller and more intimidating when in combat – but are now restricted to parades and pageants.
Fry said: ‘Tradition is never an excuse for cruelty, which is why I’m joining the call for the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to stop using the fur of slaughtered wildlife and make the switch to humane faux fur for the King’s Guard’s caps. To do otherwise would be unconscionable – and un-British
‘Britain has always prided itself on being “sporting”, but these bears – lured with cookies to the hunters’ hiding place – stand no chance of survival.’
The video was for the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and in it, the British actor, writer, broadcaster and comedian backs a campaign for the real fur to be replaced with artificial material.
According to the UK’s Ministry of Defence (MoD), bears are not hunted to order. Instead, rather the pelts are a product of ‘legal and licensed hunting authorised in Canada by provincial and territorial governments’ and it takes at least one bear to provide enough fur for each cap. The Army takes in around 100 skins each year.
According to a statement from PETA: ‘A supporter of the animal welfare group made an undercover video which claims to show hunters putting down buckets of strongly-scented food as bait, and then shooting black bears with crossbow bolts when they approach.’
Stephen Fry Speaks Out
Fry, who was a guest at the 2023 Coronation of King Charles III said: ‘By continuing to purchase caps made of black bear fur, the UK government drives demand for pelts and effectively incentivises hunters.’
‘Black bears are mercilessly killed by trophy hunters. They may then be used to make the caps used by the King’s Guard – purely ornamental headgear that serves no military purpose.
‘Bears who are shot don’t always die outright. They may flee and endure a slow and painful death from infection or blood loss – only to be found hours later after the hunters follow a blood trail.’
Bearskins, up to 18in tall and weighing around two pounds, are worn by the Grenadier, Welsh, Irish, Scots and Coldstream Guards, the senior regiments of the British Army.
They are synonymous with the pomp and ceremony of events such as the changing of the guard and the Trooping the Colour ceremony.
Made from the pelts of Canadian black bear, the material is warm and water resistant, retaining its distinctive shape no matter the weather.
According to public records obtained by PETA, the MoD purchased 498 bearskin hats between 2017 and 2022. PETA first offered the Ministry a superior faux fur produced by luxury faux furrier ECOPEL in 2017, and ECOPEL has committed to supplying an unlimited amount for free until 2030.
The UK’s military had adopted fake fur and materials elsewhere in its ceremonial uniforms. Imitation leopard skin is now worn by drummers in marching bands, while the smaller busby hats worn by the some soldiers are no longer made from beaver fur.
‘The UK government is sponsoring bait-and-kill sport hunting of bears,’ said PETA Senior Campaign Manager Kate Werner. ‘It’s time to modernise this iconic symbol of Britain by switching to a fabulous faux fur that has been tested specifically to ensure its suitability for use by the King’s Guard.’