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
A faux-fur company based in France, Ecopel, has offered to provide the MoD with artificial bear fur free of charge until 2030.
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.
The Independent has asked the MoD whether it will take up the offer from Ecopel and to comment on the more than £1m spending.
The department has said in the past: “Over the last 20 years there have been a number of trials of synthetic alternatives to bear pelts which have, to date, proved unsuccessful as nothing has matched the properties of the natural product. The Ministry of Defence does not buy bear pelts – only ceremonial caps.”
Ecopel says its fabric looks and functions exactly like real bearskin.
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.