Buckingham Palace guard hats to change to save bears

September 1st, 2008 - 10:21 am ICT by IANS  

London, Sep 1 (IANS) The headgear of the Buckingham Palace Guardsmen is in for a change after nearly 200 years, thanks to a campaign to save North American black bears.The tall, black hats which have perched atop heads of the straight-faced soldiers are made of bear skin and to be replaced with a more human alternative.

Minister for Defence Procurement Baroness Taylor will meet representatives of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) Tuesday to review a selection of creations by top designers including Stella McCartney and Vivienne Westwood.

“This meeting is hugely significant for our campaign to save North American bears,” said Robbie LeBlanc, director of Peta. An MoD spokesperson said: “The MoD is not opposed to the use of synthetic materials as an alternative to bearskins, provided such materials meet the requirement for a high-quality product that performs adequately in all weather conditions. Regrettably, a suitable alternative continues to prove elusive.”

US designer Marc Bouwer, who is teaming up with McCartney to craft an alternative hat design, said: “I would be delighted to take on this challenge and am confident the outcome would be a wonderful hat that carried on the Guards’ tradition, but in a modern way that doesn’t involve the taking of bears’ lives.”

The Queen’s five regiments of foot guards need between 50 and 100 new caps every year - each of which is 18 inches tall and takes the entire skin of a black bear to make. In March, it was revealed that the MoD has spent more than £321,000 on bearskins in the past five years, according to The Independent.

The hats were first worn by British soldiers in 1815, following the defeat of Napoleon’s French Imperial Guards at the battle of Waterloo. The French grenadiers wore bearskins to appear taller and more intimidating, and Britain adopted the towering hats for soldiers in ceremonial duties and guarding royal residencies as a symbol of their victory.

Peta has been campaigning for many years to replace the ceremonial hats with a synthetic fabric, but many attempts failed in the past with officials claiming that they were not as durable as the traditional bearskin and that they do not look the same as the originals, which are famous around the world.

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