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Eric Shackle Writes: Hands Off Our Bearskin!

Animal Rights activists are trying to get the British Government to use false fur for the iconic black bearskin helmets worn by guardsmen on ceremonial occasions, as Eric Shackle reveals.

To read more of ace reporter Eric's stories please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/eric_shackle_writes/

If the British Government bows to pressure from Animal Rights, and orders Buckingham Palace foot guards to remodel their iconic black bearskin helmets with false fur, not a single bear's life will be saved.

The sad truth, conveniently overlooked by well-meaning but highly emotional animal lovers, is that the famous, 18-inch (45.7cm) high helmets are made from skins of bears culled because they have reached pest numbers in parts of North America, or were victims of roadkill.

Britain's Minister for Defence Procurement, Baroness Ann Taylor, is responsible for acquiring all of the British Army's equipment. She's about to meet the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) to discuss the possible use of synthetic materials and new designs.

Robbie LeBlanc, PETA director in Britain, who is to meet Baroness Taylor, said "It's important to show that Britain is a modern nation and you can still have great traditions, but not have that level of cruelty involved in slaying bears to make hats.

"It's so incongruous that Britain and all of Europe are modern nations here and still you have the Queen's guards ... walking around with an entire dead bear on their heads."

"New Palace Bearskins May Spare the Bear," The Guardian newspaper announced on Sep 1, with an eye-catching photo of guardsmen flaunting their top-heavy (one and a half pounds) headdress. http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2008/sep/01/military.fashion

Millions of tourists visiting London each year photograph members of the Queen's Foot Guards whose shining black bearskins offset brilliant scarlet tunics on ceremonial parades.

It's just another round in a long drawn out battle. Five years ago, Caroline Davies http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1424257/Animal-lobby-forces-Foot-Guards-to-look-for-alternative-bearskins.html reported in the Daily Telegraph:

"For two centuries the Sovereign's Foot Guards have been distinguished by the foot-high bearskins that top their scarlet ceremonial uniforms. But now, to appease animal rights campaigners, defence officials are seeking an alternative to the traditional headgear, which dates back to the Battle of Waterloo.

"Complaints to the Queen that her soldiers should switch to faux fur have resulted in a search for a synthetic bearskin - so far without success."

The wonderfully British-named Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Dick-Peter was quoted as saying "We have tried artificial fibres to try and get away from using bearskins. But nothing works. It either doesn't hold its shape, or it cannot withstand the weather, or it fails to retain the right colour, or it stands up in a very surprised manner in the wrong electrical conditions."

Next, in 2006, some 70 PETA activists staged a naked protest against the use of bearskins. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/5002082.stm

Lieutenant Colonel Peter Dick-Peter again made the headlines. He told BBC London that fake fur does not have the same qualities as the real thing.

"It looks like a 60s Beatle wig," he said. "It just doesn't look right and if the wind blows it sticks up. The rain soaks into the fibre and it ends up an extremely heavy piece of sodden material on somebody's head. In hot electrical conditions, all the hair will stand up - a really bad hair day."

Caroline Davies wrote that the bearskin cap could be traced back to the Grenadier Mitre cap, which, in 1712, replaced the three-cornered (tricorn) hat when it was discovered that for a Grenadier to throw his grenade, he had to sling his firelock across his back, which invariably resulted in his hat being knocked off.

Fine, glossy pelts from female bears are reserved for officers. Other ranks have to make do with rougher male pelts. Helmets can last a century, and are sometimes passed from father to son. A good bearskin "should look like an apple in front, and a pear from the back."

Black bears live in the wild in 41 of the 50 US states and in every Canadian province bar Prince Edward Island. In Canada, about 500,000 black bears mainly inhabit forested areas, according to figures from the British Fur Trade Association. The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada says the black bear is "not at risk."

If you are not an animal lover, you may like to join a bear-shooting expedition at Rick Dickson's Black Bear Hunts, in Wawa, Ontario, Canada. http://www.nlmotel.com/dicksonsbear.htm


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