Campaigns to stop black bears being turned into ceremonial bearskin hats
1. Campaigns to stop black bears being turned into ceremonial bearskin hats for the British Army have faced almost every incoming Minister of Defence for many years. However, confusion has now arisen after protesters have been lobbying to save the wrong species: the MOD has just admitted that for the past 5 years all the skins used by the Guards regiments for the 18-inch high hats had come from Canadian brown bears, not black ones. They are then dyed black. The pressure group PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) has also acknowledged that it had recently realized that the bears were of the brown variety rather than the black variety.
2. The admission is a potential embarrassment for the charity “which has attracted a host of household names to champion black bears, including the comedian Ricky Gervais, the actor Michael Sheen and the TV host Amanda Holden.” The dismay may undermine confidence in other animal welfare charities, which already face enough obstacles in a sector in fierce competition for donations and gifts and sensitive to mistakes that could provoke unfair derision, albeit unduly, on the steady efforts of others, in which we have to declare an urgent interest. The animal welfare issues must be sustained, whatever the colours of the guardsman’s skins or of the shoes they wear – or the market price of the animals’ by-products that find such ceremonial applications for the MOD’s decorative and entertainment duties. It beggars belief that a Coalition government, facing well-established failings in its military duties and concern for the welfare of the wearers of the exceptionable hats, can’t exercise a generally merciful gesture to treat animals of all species – including us – with greater respect.
3. Brown bears exist in many countries. In Canada they are known as grizzlies, and are a rarer, more protected, species than the black bear. There are about 26,000 grizzlies in Canada, of which about 450 a year are legally hunted. The Canadian government has designated the species of “special concern” and hunting them has been banned in at least one province. In contrast there are about 400,000 black bears, 20,000 of them shot each year. They are considered “not at risk.” The matter is complicated by the fact that about 10% of black bears have lighter-coloured fur, making them look brown.
4. Initially the MOD insisted that its brown bearskins had come from a separate species to the black bear and PETA said its latest information was “that some of the Army’s bearskins could indeed be from grizzlies; however, most were from black bears, it believed. The MOD has stated that “bearskins used for the British Army’s ceremonial caps had come only from brown bears and have done so for more that 5 years. They are all sourced from Canada.” The MOD had subsequently to concede that it was not totally certain whether its brown bearskins were from lighter-coloured black bears.
5. Beauty Without Cruelty many years ago, in collaboration with many celebrities, ran successful Blood-on-the-Ice campaigns against Canada’s unashamed trade in sealskins. Many well-known designers threw their weight behind it and came up with satisfactory fake furs and other fabrics as alternatives. Alastair Darling, recently Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, complained officially over Canada’s objectionable trade. There’s none so slow as those who won’t go: Britain’s designers and fashionistas should grasp the nettle, with or without the support of our compromised Coalition, to come up with ideas for practicable designs or refreshed alternatives (with perhaps an OBE for the winner) – and let’s see dismissed the lickspittles who retrieve some glory for Britain by retaining and brushing up (!) the Hunting Act in the animals’ favour: at least Bear Baiting is not to be reintroduced in the UK and Britain must regain its sincerity when it views attitudes over blood sports and contests in other European countries and North America. Even poor beggared Britain facing the challenges of deep recession can muster some of the decency and enterprise it exhibited during and just after WW2 Clement Attlee (well-named the PM) had to resign in 1951, when the hedonistas overcame the practitioners of a genuine and honourable austerity.