Stephen Fry shows General Ignorance

This article was first published in Country Squire Magazine on Jan. 12, 2024, and has been slightly edited. It is reproduced with permission.

Being an Old Testament bloke, I usually reply in kind to those rude people who call law-abiding farmers, hunters, field-sportspeople and wildlife managers “murderers, killers and evil monsters”. I insult people who tell blatant lies about trophy hunting, and I mock demented Animal Rights (AR) evangelists who are so blinded by zealotry that they can’t tell a human from a hippo. It is therefore with awful sadness and restraint that I comment on one of my heroes and favourite people on TV, the wonderful Stephen Fry, whose appearances in Blackadder as Lord/General Melchett over 30 years ago and as the genial host of QI over 20 years ago (I know!) has enriched my life a bit and made him a firm favourite with the nation.

But now he has gone and done his own round of QI’s “General Ignorance”, concerning the bearskins worn by His Majesty’s Guards. Fry has unfortunately seen fit to front a campaign by PeTA ostensibly aimed at getting the Guards to use fake plastic fur instead of real fur bearskins – and fake sums up the whole AR campaign.

PeTA (also known as “PeTAnnihilation” from its habit of killing pets) you might recall, is the global AR behemoth (UK income £6 million, Global income $66 million and part of the $88 million that the network of mega AR parasites rake in annually). PeTA’s founder, stark-raving Ingrid Newkirk (“Phasing out the human race will solve every problem on Earth”), who openly condones ecoterrorism, set up PeTA to spread the mental disease of AR and oppose any use of animals by humans – no pets, no seeing dogs, no mine-detecting rats, no drug dogs, no farming animals, no nothing.

Unfortunately, since all of our physical resources and clearing land for any building work or farming, even vegetable farming (yes, vegans) or any other primary industry, involves killing animals, it is a simple fact of life that we humans couldn’t exist without killing animals, so the AR ideology is, in reality, an intellectual cow-pat. This is hardly surprising because Newkirk, like the rest of the AR souls, was apparently intoxicated by reading Peter Singer’s brain-fart of a book, Animal Liberation. He, in turn, is infamous for suggesting that, given a choice, competent monkeys should be given more rights than mentally incompetent human infants and he is AR’s founding father. There is, in fact, no such thing as animal rights, as any deer fawn can explain, shortly before being torn to shreds by an omnivorous black bear.

As Baldrick might have put it, “AR is a cunning plan, as cunning as a fox who’s just been appointed Professor of Cunning at Oxford University”. AR is just about as realistic as that, too.

Bearskins are symbol of UK
If the Ministry of Defence stopped using bearskins, it wouldn’t make a blind bit of difference to either the sustainable bear harvest or its market. Photo: Swaminathan Iyer, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This story isn’t new. Bears and the King’s Guards, like naked women and red paint, make for wonderful press photos, so they have been a favourite target for PeTA for years; in fact the suggestion has been made that PeTA might want to let this particular golden goose live on. In the past, PeTA organised the usual petition and got their empty-vessel, willing donkey MPs to waste time in the Westminster Asylum debating their anti-bearskin nonsense and waste money taking the MOD to court in 2022. Bears are very charismatic in the UK – you will notice that AR souls make much less fuss here about rats, but even then, PeTA suggests that rats “should be caught gently in live catch traps and released not more than 100 yards from where they are caught” – an idea with obviously only one oar in the water, like most AR souls’ ideas. This is really all about publicity, not bears.

And what of the bears?

Well, according to Canadian government wildlife authorities, who may know a tad more about fur than either nut-roast PeTA or vegetarian Mr Fry, black bears are abundant and common in Canada. There is an estimated black bear population of about 500,000 black bears in Canada that is both healthy and stable. Black bear hunting and trapping has a very long history and is strictly regulated by both season and quota. In Canada, it contributes to food security and economic sovereignty in Indigenous communities and is an important source of rural income, especially where alternative economic opportunities are few. Bear meat and red offal are eaten, while grey offal is laid out for the natural scavengers or buried if you don’t want a bear’s picnic. There is nothing strange about any of it. We humans have been predators since before we were humans. Hunting by modern humans and our ancestors goes back at least 1,600,000 years.

PeTA has been around for about 43 years.

Stephen Fry is simply wrong when he repeats PeTA’s dishonest but obligatory “Trophy hunting” jibe – harvesting bears per se is not trophy hunting. He’s having a stir. Trophy hunting (usually conducted by hunting tourists) is something entirely different – trophy hunters keep their bear skins for a start. The Canadian bear harvest is not a “sport” – it is closer to subsistence hunting, an ancient and honourable human activity aimed at sustainably harvesting a natural resource, like rabbits, deer or fish in the UK and, like all predation, it doesn’t have to be “fair” – it’s not some kind of frivolous urban game to be played.

Bearskins used in 14 countries
Bearskins are not just a UK thing. As of 2020, the militaries of 14 countries use them. Photo: Sadelmageren, Denmark.

Things get killed. It is a way of life and a cultural tradition. The number of Canadian bears annually harvested by legal hunting and trapping is only a maximum of 6% of the total population and the harvest is RATS – Regulated, Accountable, Transparent and Sustainable. The meat is eaten while skins, bones, claws, and grease, etc. are important by-products of this harvest and are sent to market, no different to leather, feathers, hide glue, deer antlers for handles or dog chews that end up in UK pet shops.

Could someone please tell critics that the MOD don’t look at a tatty old bearskin cap and immediately phone someone in Canada to go out and club a bear to death for a new one. The MOD has nothing to do with the Canadian bear harvest or its market any more than it buys steel for its guns or leather for its boots. The MOD buys their bearskin caps from a supplier, representing (in number) a minuscule 0.04% of the skins available from the bear population and if those suppliers did not buy them, it would not make a blind bit of difference to either the sustainable bear harvest or its market.

It is therefore not true for Fry to suggest that buying them “encourages hunting”. Bear pelts are a natural commodity like any other. As of 2020, there were 14 countries whose militaries used bearskin as a part of their ceremonial uniforms and there is an interesting piece about making the UK bearskin caps on the excellent and most illuminative Fieldsports Channel.

Of course, the public are not Royal Guards, so PeTA and Fry and their usual posse of rich, virtue-signalling slebs can pretend to their doting and donating public that plastic fur makes a better substitute and from there imply deceptively that it will save bears’ lives.

Wrong on both counts, as usual.

The MOD have made it clear here that fake fur isn’t up to scratch (so to speak) and, as you can see from the link, using fake fur won’t save a single bear. Quite apart from these practical and sensible considerations, there is also the serious matter of military tradition and esprit de corps.

An excellent video on bearskins from the Fieldsports Channel.

AR souls, whose self-indulgent, look-at-me ideology is only possible because they are safe and well protected by the sharp sword and bright armour of the military, have no more idea about military tradition than they do about hunting culture. In the earlier debate about bearskins in the Westminster Asylum, Martyn Day MP (nothing to do with the shamed Al Sweady lawyer) got up to pee on military tradition, saying, “As the writer and philosopher G. K. Chesterton wrote: Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead.” He omitted to acknowledge that the sacrifices of those dead allowed him to stand in Parliament and freely spout his wrong-headed opinions.

Dear Readers, there is another serious, real-world note. Fake fur is made up of millions of tiny oil-based plastic fibres that snap off in sunlit use and inevitably break down into smaller and smaller pieces. We all know that trillions of micro plastics are shed by synthetic plastic clothes (up to 700,000 in a 6kg wash), exfoliants (up to 94,000 in a single use) and tyres (18,000 tons annually), making up 65% of the micro plastics released into UK surface waters that end up in the oceans and inside us. What we should be doing is stopping using fake plastic Franken-fur, not promoting it. It may well be poisoning all of us (and, ironically, the bears in Canada) just to keep a handful of gobby urban head-bangers happy.

Natural fur, on the other hand, has another story. It is an unbeatably warm and beautiful, sustainable and replaceable natural resource that can be absorbed back into nature’s own cycle – one that we have been using for the whole of our history. It is bio-degradable and uses fewer chemicals to produce than, say, leather. Sustainably utilising natural resources like fur and meat while managing wildlife populations is an excellent use for vast areas of remote wilderness, ensuring that it is self-protected from development or other uses such as farming. In doing so, all the other fauna and flora is conserved, too. Armchair conservationists may grumble and the AR happy clappers may moan, but hunters on the ground are often the first eyes and ears monitoring the condition of the environment and its residents.

Looking at the state of the world at the moment, surely we have much more important problems to attend to rather than waste time and money, pointlessly pandering to PeTA the Parasites or to the twisted ideology and emotions of rich, virtue-signalling AR souls – even souls of the otherwise exemplary stature of Stephen Fry, bless him.

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