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Call to ban British royal guards from wearing bearskin hats gains support

6/22/2006

LONDON — A British lawmaker is gathering support for his call to ban the towering bearskin hats worn for almost 200 years by the red-coated soldiers who guard the country's royal palaces.

The motion, introduced by Labour party lawmaker Chris Mullin in March, declares the hats made from the fur of Canadian black bears "have no military significance and involve unnecessary cruelty."

Conservative lawmaker Ann Widdecombe has now urged her party to support the motion aimed at replacing the bearskins with artificial substitutes.

"Black bears, who are intelligent and curious animals, are slaughtered in Canada so that their skins may be used for ceremonial hats," Widdecombe wrote in a letter to her party colleagues on Thursday.

Widdecombe's letter was obtained by The Associated Press on Tuesday.

So far, 180 of 646 lawmakers in the House of Commons have signed the motion.

On Sunday, about 100 animal rights activists staged a naked demonstration in London to protest against the hats.

The royal guards who wear the foot-tall black bearskin hats, bright red tunics and white gloves are one of the most recognizable symbols of Britain. Tourists flock to Buckingham Palace, the queen's London home, to watch the traditional Changing of the Guard ceremony.

An army spokesman said officials have been searching for an alternative and have tested a false fur that was hot and tended to matte in rainy weather, durable and rich bearskin is preferred.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with department policy, said the army also strives to repair instead of replace its 2,500 hats.

"Not a single bear is killed (solely) to make a bearskin hat," the army spokesman said. "Both governments in the United States and Canada have policies to keep the bear population under control."

Canadian black bears are not an endangered species.

The Defense Ministry buys 50 to 100 bearskin pelts a year to outfit its five regiments wearing them. One complete bearskin hat costs $1,197 and can last up to 40 years.