"The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" is due to premiere in Wellington, New Zealand on November 28. However, in the meantime a scandal has arisen over the treatment of animals used in the film.
While according to the American Humane Association, the animals were not harmed during the actual filming of the movie, wranglers involved in the film say that poor accommodation and treatment away from the set has resulted in the deaths of at least 27 animals.
The wranglers complained that the conditions at the farm, which housed 150 animals for the film, were unsuitable. They named “bluffs, sinkholes and broken-down fencing” as among the most troubling "death traps" for the animals, many of which died of severe injuries.
According to one wrangler, over time he buried three horses, as well as about six goats, six sheep and a dozen chickens. Apparently two more horses suffered severe injuries but survived.
A miniature horse called Rainbow, slated to appear as a Hobbit horse, was apparently the first to go and was euthanized after breaking his back when he crash-landed on the uneven terrain.
Another wrangler said that a horse named Claire was discovered dead, her head underwater in a stream, after falling over a bluff. Two other horses were injured after their legs were ripped open on some fencing.
And yet, despite their complaints, the farm continued to be used by the producers of the film.
Spokesperson for director Peter Jackson has officially confirmed that several horses, goats, chickens and one sheep died at the farm near Wellington.
According to the spokesman, Matt Dravitski, some deaths had natural causes, while others could have been avoided if necessary precautions had been taken timeously. Dravitzki claims that the production company did react immediately after two horses, who could have been saved, died.
"We do know those deaths were avoidable and we took steps to make sure it didn't happen again," he said.
Part of a statement by Jackson and filmmakers involved reads as follows:
"The producers completely reject the accusations that 27 animals died due to mistreatment during the making of the films. Extraordinary measures were taken to make sure that animals were not used during action sequences or any other sequence that might create undue stress for the animals involved. Over 55 percent of all shots using animals in The Hobbit are in fact computer generated; this includes horses, ponies, rabbits, hedgehogs, birds, deer, elk, mice, wild boars and wolves.
The American Humane Association (AHA) was on hand to monitor all use of animals by the production. No animals died or were harmed on set during filming.
We regret that some of these accusations by wranglers who were dismissed from the film over a year ago are only now being brought to our attention. We are currently investigating these new allegations and are attempting to speak with all parties involved to establish the truth. "Kathy Guillermo, a senior vice president for Animal Rights defenders, PETA, told reporters that whistleblowers on the set of the Hobbit had contacted the organization and that PETA sent a letter to Jackson last week outlining the group's concerns.
"We want to send a clear message to Hollywood that they need to be very careful when using animals and take all the precautions that need to be taken," Guillermo said.
PETA are planning to rally against the film in New Zealand, the US and the UK, as the first in a $500 million Hobbit trilogy premieres in Wellington on November 28.