2ND UPDATE: Peter Jackson Posts on Facebook Page Defense by ‘The Hobbit’ Production Team Against Animal Cruelty Allegations

UPDATE, 8:29 PM: Director Peter Jackson and the other producers of The Hobbit say that allegations by PETA of mistreatment of animals during the production of the upcoming film are “unsubstantiated.” Earlier today, it was reported that over two dozens animals used in the movie died from the conditions in a New Zealand farm they were housed in. The farm was over 180 miles from the movie’s main set.  The producers later said that they “completely reject” the accusations. Now The Hobbit team say PETA never “properly” checked out the story of the dismissed animal wranglers that were the source of the claims. Read the producers’ full statement below:

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 time.  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.

PREVIOUS, 4:10 PM: The American Humane Association, which monitors on-set animal use under its “No Animals Were Harmed” program, called the animal deaths “needless and unacceptable” in a release of its own this afternoon. The group reiterated that it only monitors animal use on set, and that the incidents in question happened at a working farm 186 miles from the main set and 26 miles from the soundstage. “We do not have either the jurisdiction or funding to extend that oversight to activities or conditions off set or before animals come under our protection”, said AHA president and CEO Robin Ganzert. “There are too many incidents off the set and this must stop. It is vital that we work with the industry to bring the kind of protection we have for animals during filming to all phases of production.” The AHA said it  sent letters to industry leaders in January of this year seeking ways to work together to improve the welfare of animals off the set as well as on.

PREVIOUS, 11:17 AM: Producers of Warner Bros‘ trilogy The Hobbit said today that they “completely reject the accusations that 27 animals died due to mistreatment during the making of the films”. In a statement, director Peter Jackson and other producers of the upcoming JRR Tolkien films say claims by dismissed animal wranglers that sinkholes and other death traps led to more than two dozen animal deaths on a farm where they were stabled and housed are false. The accusations were brought to light in a Associated Press report today based on information that rights group People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals claims it provided to the news agency. Here’s the producers’ statement:

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 twenty seven 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 fifty five per cent 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.

A decade ago there were accusations, later found to be false by New Zealand officials, that horses were abused during the making of Jackson’s Lord Of The Rings films. The American Humane Association told the AP today that they knew of no animals being harmed during the filming of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey — the first film in the trilogy that opens December 14 — but that it had no oversight over the facilities where animals were kept — on a property outside Wellington, New Zealand. The Hobbit films were shot in New Zealand and the UK.