The Royal Guard won't be going bareheaded to the royal wedding, but neither will its members be wearing the controversial brown bear bushy helmets that the Swiss League of Animal Rights insists are being made for the occasion.
"The wasteful slaughter of 600 Canadian brown bears to refurbish the Royal Buards' hats for the wedding parade is scandalous," the league claimed yesterday in a protest letter to Prince Philip, father of Prince Charles. Philip is president of the World Wildlife Fund International.
But British officials deny the charge. Further, the busby is not made from brown bears but from bears so numerous there is "no reason for concern for conservation reasons," according to a World Wildlife Fund spokesman in Geneva.
The traditional busby is indeed made from bear fur, Canadian bear. But these hats come "from hides of black bears common in Canada, not brown bears which are by no means common," said a spokesperson for World Wildlife (U.S.) in Washington.
The polar views on the issue start with a confusion over the bear species. "What we call black bear [ursus Americanus] is called brown bear by Europeans," suggests World Wildlife. "The real brown bear, ursus arctos, is an entirely different species."
There are more than 65,000 black bears in Quebec providence alone, according to World Wildlife (U.S.). That's one bear per hundred residents in the province, which may explain why the black bear is often referred to as a pest in that area.
There is an annual replacement program for the guards' hats, according to a spokesman at the British Embassy. "But the royal wedding has not affected this year's orders for hats,' he says. A World Wildlife (U.S.) spokeswoman said that in 1980, 100 black bear pelts were bought by the Royal Guard. So far this year, an additional five pelts have been purchased. "If, indeed, new hats are being made, and if 600 pelts were needed for this purpose, it seems likely that the pelts would have been stockpiled over the years and completely legal," she said.