(AFP) – Aug 31, 2008
LONDON (AFP) — Military chiefs are to meet with an animal rights group on Tuesday to discuss alternatives to the traditional bearskin hats famously worn by the guards at Buckingham Palace.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) are to hald talks with Ministry of Defence (MoD) officials to put forward what they say are ethical alternatives to the 18-inch (46-centimetre) tall fur hats worn by army guards.
Peta has previously discussed fake fur alternatives with the MoD but military bosses were unimpressed by the prototypes.
Now Peta has come up with an alternative shape, but insists its design could be as famous as the traditional hats.
"We can still have very regal-looking guards who look fantastic," said Peta's Europe director Robbie LeBlanc.
"We felt doing this kind of thing was a way of keeping with the times and keeping that iconic status."
He said activists had talked to tourists outside Buckingham Palace, Queen Elizabeth II's official residence in London, and most did not know the hats were made using fur from Canadian black bears.
"Most people think it's fake fur and when they find out it's real and it takes one bear to make a hat, they are appalled," he said.
"Fur farming has been outlawed in Britain but we are paying other people with taxpayers' money.
"We think we are a modern nation but the queen's guards are walking round with an entire dead bear on their heads."
The hats were first worn by British soldiers following the defeat of the French Imperial Guards in the 1815 Battle of Waterloo.
The French grenadiers wore them to appear taller and more intimidating and British guards adopted the hats for ceremonial duties as a mark of their victory.
Between 50 and 100 new hats are needed each year. The MoD has spent more than 321,000 pounds on bearskins in the past five years.
LeBlanc and other Peta representatives are to meet Baroness Ann Taylor, the minister for defence procurement.
"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," a ministry spokeswoman said.
"Regrettably, a suitable alternative continues to prove elusive.
"Baroness Taylor will be meeting representatives from Peta this week.
"This is a private meeting and it would be inappropriate to speculate on what will be discussed," she added.
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