Dead bear lies on grass with arrow in their back

Lured by Cookies, Shot for the King’s Guard’s Caps

Issue 2|Spring 2024

The hungry bear could smell the honey, cookies, and bagels and moved cautiously toward the enticing aroma. Suddenly, he felt enormous pain: A razor-sharp arrow had torn into his flesh. He struggled through the agony, trying to flee. Eventually, he collapsed and died. The next morning, hunters used dogs to track the bear’s blood and scent. They were happy to have “bagged” him: “He’s a big ’un!”

He was skinned, his head likely a trophy for someone’s wall, his beautiful coat likely sent to the auction house where the British Ministry of Defence’s (MoD) capmakers buy bear fur to be made into the King’s Guard’s caps. If a bear killed for a cap was a mother, her cubs would be doomed to die of starvation – slowly and in confusion at the loss of their mother – the moment she was shot.

A bear in the forest near a trap
An unsuspecting bear is lured to a trap.

For nearly two centuries, the MoD has waged war on black bears – for each cap worn as a strictly ceremonial headdress by the King’s Guard, a bear is cruelly killed, not counting those who are never found after fleeing and who die in the woods or the cubs who don’t know how to feed themselves. A new PETA video investigation narrated by actor Stephen Fry shows black bears being shot, disemboweled, and dismembered by “sport” hunters in Canada, where the King’s Guard’s bearskins originate. To add to the horror, high-powered crossbows are used, as hunters say they heighten the challenge. Crossbow hunting has been illegal in the UK for over 40 years, due in part to the suffering it inflicts on animals, yet the MoD buys caps made of pelts from animals killed this way.

“Tradition is never an excuse for cruelty, which is why I’m joining the call for the Ministry of Defence 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.”

– Beloved actor and author Stephen Fry
stephen fry

The Ministry’s Lies

The MoD long claimed that the bear pelts are a byproduct of a “cull” overseen by Canadian authorities. Yet federal and provincial Canadian governments have confirmed that no such culls exist. The Canadian government issues “tags” to hunting enthusiasts who are then free to bait and kill an allotted number of bears for recreation and sell their skins. The MoD has now shifted to aligning itself with Furmark, a commercial fur industry accreditation scheme that exists solely to defend the interests of fur farmers and hunters and to promote the (rapidly declining) use of fur in fashion.

The fact is that fabulous, free faux fur is there for the taking. The MoD purchased 498 weather-resistant faux fur produced by luxury faux furrier ECOPEL to the MoD in 2017, and ECOPEL has committed to supplying an unlimited amount for the caps free of charge for a decade. This makes these nearly 500 bears’ deaths particularly shameful and entirely indefensible.

PETA UK supporters hold a “die-in” outside MoD headquarters in London
PETA UK supporters hold a “die-in” outside MoD headquarters in London.

A Kinder Generation of Guards

“I am protecting what it means to be British. Certainly, wearing the skin of a dead animal on my head accomplishes none of that.”

– Royal guard

Today’s King’s Guard members are young and engaged, and many reject the notion that living, feeling beings are mere “fabric” for humans’ use. In an op-ed published in The Independent, one guard explained that wearing a fur cap tarnishes the uniform and “feels cruel and inhumane.” Members of Parliament agree: Seventy-five of them supported a motion calling on the MoD to recognize that using real fur “is not in line with the UK Government’s commitment to have and promote the highest standards of animal welfare.”

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