The British Army was last night condemned for fuelling a fur trade which leaves baby bears orphaned. Animal rights groups criticised officials for buying the left over skin of black bears from tourist-hunters in Canada. In recent years thousands of American hunters have crossed the border to shoot bears for pleasure. The Army has then been buying the fur to use in making the famous bearskin hats.
Animal welfare groups criticised the army for demanding that the fur for Buckingham Palace guardsmen is culled in springtime when it is at its thickest. This is also the time for breeding and thousands of baby bears are left orphaned after their mother's are shot by tourist hunters. What the hunters leave behind is sold on to the British Army. A spokeswoman for Peta (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) said: "It is inexcusable. Tradition has never been a means of justifying cruelty. "The Ministry of Defence has been dragging its feet for years and this organisation which has so much money at its disposal, and can launch a missile even, can't find a replacement material for fur. These hats are not bullet-proof. They are purely ornamental."
She added: "Fur farming has been banned in the UK because people do not like it. Yet tax payers money is being used to buy these hats even though the public doesn't agree with them. "There is no kind way of skinning an animal whether it is a fox or bear. The British Army could save hundreds of bears every year." A spokesman for Tony's Cub Rescue Centre which tries to save baby bears left orphaned in British Columbia said many of the bears whose pelts are sold on die slow deaths after being inexpertly shot by tourists. He said: "We only save a very small percentage." It was also revealed that bears are enticed with meat, doughnuts and even honey in order to make them easier for paying hunters to shoot. The spokesman added: "It is like shooting fish in a barrel."
The British Army has spent 321,000 pounds in the last five years on 431 bearskin "caps" at the cost of the tax payer. Last night a spokesman for the MoD said the bear fur trade was a matter for the Canadian government. The MoD has been researching the use of fake fur for bearskin hats for nearly 20 years but has not as yet found one it considers suitable.
The standard bearskin of the British Foot Guards is 18 inches tall, weighs one and a half pounds and is made from the fur of the Canadian black bear. Some which are still in use are over 100 years old. The fur of an adult black bear is used to make one complete cap.
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