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Peter Jackson and the producers of The Hobbit trilogy “completely reject” allegations made by animal wranglers involved in making the films that the production was responsible for the deaths of as many as 27 animals on set in New Zealand.
The Associated Press reported that some 150 animals were housed at a farm near the town of Wellington and that unsafe conditions led to the deaths of horses, goats, chickens and sheep. A rep for Jackson acknowledged the lives lost but said that some died of natural causes.
No animal was harmed during filming; meanwhile, four wranglers have spoken out to the AP, alleging that the farm posed a hazard for horses as the land had such “death traps” as bluffs and sinkholes; one wrangler said a horse named Claire was discovered dead, her head underwater in a stream, after falling over a bluff. Another horse, a pony called Rainbow, was euthanized after breaking his back when he crash-landed on the uneven terrain. Two other horses allegedly were injured when they got caught in some fencing, their legs ripped open.
The wranglers said they discussed the issues with bosses as well as the Warner Bros.-operated production company, but the animals remained at the farm. After two horses died — an “avoidable” turn of events, said Jackson’s rep — the filmmakers enlisted the American Humane Association to launch an investigation of the farm and “hundreds of thousands of dollars … were spent on upgrading housing and stable facilities in early 2011.”
Nevertheless, PETA plans to protest the New Zealand premiere of the sure-to-be global blockbuster The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which will roll out the red carpet Nov. 28 in Wellington.
The Hollywood Reporter has received Jackson and the Hobbit filmmakers’ statement, in full below:
The producers of The Hobbit take the welfare of all animals very seriously and have always pursued the highest standard of care for animals in their charge. Any incidents that occurred that were brought to their attention as regards to this care were immediately investigated and appropriate action taken. This includes hundreds of thousands of dollars that were spent on upgrading housing and stable facilities in early 2011.
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.
UPDATED: On Monday night, Jackson and the Hobbit producers released another statement denying the claims, along with statements from a veterinarian, actor and farmer who were involved with the production:
The Hobbit production has always instituted swift and immediate investigations in to any concerns of any kind over the treatment of animals under its care. A prompt and thorough investigation into the recent unsubstantiated allegations by the American organisation, PETA, in to the ‘hobbling’ of a horse during the making of The Hobbit was undertaken. No evidence of such a practice was found to have occurred at any tim. Further, the production contacted the owner of the horse concerned who provided the following statement: “I am 100% happy with the return of Shanghai and his condition. In the term that he was leased he was picked up and returned to me two times. On both occasions there was not a mark on him and he was healthy and happy. He has shown no signs of ill-treatment. I would not hesitate in leasing him to the movie again.”
To date, the only horse wranglers whose treatment of animals fell below the production’s standard of care seem to be the two wranglers who have chosen to level this new accusation on the eve of the premiere of the first Hobbit film and who were dismissed by the production over a year ago. Reports of their actions are documented in several written statements dating back to October 2011.
The production regrets that PETA has chosen to make such a serious accusation, which has distressed many of the dedicated Kiwis who worked with animals on the films – including trainers, wranglers, care-givers, farm workers and animal health care professionals – without properly vetting the source from which they received this information.
The production has been inundated with calls of support as regards to this matter, including the following statements:
FROM: DR JULIA BRYCE BVSc
“From December 2010 till July 2012, this practice was the primary Veterinary care giver for the horses and livestock in the care of “Three Foot Seven”.
During this period we were consulted promptly in cases of injury and illness. We were also consulted routinely about ongoing veterinary care and preventative medicine.
If referral was required to a specialist clinic or Massey Equine Clinic, this occurred promptly. As occurs in normal practice there are incidences and injury which may result in an unfavourable outcome and others that recover completely; like the young goat who fractured a front leg but recovered completely after 6 weeks in a cast and hospital rest, or the rooster who spent two weeks at our clinic with a foot infection.
These and other animals in the care of Three Foot Seven Limited received the best available treatment to ensure their recovery, their welfare and return to good health was paramount to those in charge. At no time were we concerned about the welfare and on-going treatment of animals under our care.”
FROM: JOY GRAY – FARMER
“I was appalled to hear of the wild claims being made in the media by PETA. I and my family own the farm which the Hobbits used to train their animals. Myself, my manager, my children and grand-children saw nothing to make us uncomfortable or give us cause for concern. We all had totally free access to all activities at all times. In fact, the animals were wonderfully looked after, being well-fed, well-housed, and well-treated. As both farmers and dedicated horse people ourselves we would have stood for nothing less. I myself ride horses, all my children rode competitively and now my grandchildren ride.
I was involved in Pony Club for many years and was District Commissioner for the Wellington Pony Club. My manager was totally aware of all that was happening with the Hobbits and he is outraged at these false claims.
The sixty horses, the cattle, oxen, sheep, goats, dogs, pigs, hens etc. were given professional and humane treatment.”
FROM: JED BROPHY – ACTOR (NORI)
“As an actor and animal trainer who has worked on large scale productions here in New Zealand, in particular The Lord of the Rings Trilogy and more recently, The Hobbit, I am flabbergasted to read this morning of the accusations levelled at the production by PETA. With a production as large as The Hobbit, filmed over such an extensive period the care of the animals used in filming was exceptional. The entire time we were on set, and when we were training with the animal wranglers employed to look after and train the animals for filming, I observed no mistreatment – in fact the opposite is true.
The animals were treated with the utmost care and responsibility. The farm in which they were housed had excellent facilities for the care and maintenance of the animals’ health. So much so that I moved my own horse on site so I could ride him for training exercises. At all times on set we had experienced Wranglers and Animal health Authorities on hand and Vets to monitor the welfare of the Animals working for the film. It has been my experience working for this film company that they take every conceivable precaution and employ the very best practitioners in every department and that includes the animal department.
I feel that there is a certain amount of personal vindictiveness levelled at the production from individuals with their own agenda. As is often the case in these situations, organisations will leap at the chance to gain publicity for their cause without seeking the truth. Being an experienced horseman and having worked as a wrangler and rider in the past, I would not have allowed myself to be a part of any production that knowingly employed unsafe practice in the workplace in this way. I can say with absolute certainty the production went out of their way to treat animals with the upmost respect and care.”
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