Image: Grenadier Guards
Lefteris Pitarakis  /  AP
British military officials have agreed to study alternative materials that could replace the ceremonial bearskin hats worn by soldiers such as these Grenadier Guards, who were pictured at Windsor Castle, in Windsor, England, on Oct. 6, 2005
updated 9/3/2008 8:22:37 AM ET 2008-09-03T12:22:37

After meeting with animal rights activists, the British military said Tuesday that it will study alternative materials to replace the bearskin hats worn by the soldiers who guard Buckingham Palace.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, supported by some members of Parliament, says killing Canadian black bears to make the headgear is cruel. PETA says it will ask clothes designers to draw up a new hat using synthetic materials.

Although Canadian black bears are not an endangered species, sentiment has grown in Britain against using the fur for headgear that has no military purpose other than as a ceremonial adornment.

The Defense Ministry has said it is open to using synthetics but has yet to find a high-quality, weather-resistant replacement for the fur. It said Tuesday it will discuss the issue further in October.

Five army regiments — the Grenadier, Coldstream, Scots, Welsh and Irish Guards — wear the 18-inch-high black hats during ceremonial duties at London's Buckingham Palace and other royal sites around the country.

The Defense Ministry buys 50 to 100 bearskin pelts a year to make and repair hats, which can last up to 40 years. A single hat costs about $1,100.

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