When you think of things that just scream ‘London’, the King’s guards outside Buckingham Palace are right up the list. The tradition goes back centuries, but one aspect of their flashy garments has been the subject of some heavy scrutiny, namely centring around their headwear.
Stephen Fry has joined calls for the King’s Guards to stop using real fur in their recognisable bearskin hats, and to opt instead for fake fur that replicates the material. The actor has backed the campaign started by animal welfare groups, and appeared to narrate a PETA video which used footage of hunters killing bears in Ontario, Canada that was revealed by a PETA USA investigator that went undercover.
(You can watch the Stephen Fry-narrated video posted by PETA below, though please be mindful that the video contains explicit imagery of harm to animals that viewers may find upsetting.)
Speaking in the video, Fry said: “Black bears like this one are mercilessly killed by trophy hunters. Their fur may then be used to make the caps worn by the King’s Guard – purely ornamental headgear that serves no military purpose.”
In the video, bears are baited with biscuits, bagels and oil before they are shot, and PETA also claim that many bears do not die straight away, often running away an “enduring a slow, painful death from infection or blood loss”.
Fry also added that “tradition is never an excuse for cruelty”, saying: “Britain has always prided itself on being sporting, but these bears–lured with cookies to the hunters’ hiding place–stand no chance of survival.”
PETA has confirmed that it will share the video with King Charles, in the hopes that the Monarch will call for a change in material. In events like Trooping The Colour, he and other members of the royal family also dress in the headwear of the guards.
Speaking on behalf of PETA, Kate Werner said: “The UK government is sponsoring bait-and-kill sport hunting of mothers and other bears.” Fry concluded the PETA video by saying: “It’s time for a changing of the guard… tell the MOD to go fur-free.”
The Ministry of Defence has said that all bear pelts are from authorised hunts, and added: “To date and to the Department’s knowledge, an alternative has yet to meet the standards required to provide an effective replacement for the bearskin ceremonial caps”.