By Lloyd Burr with NZN
Sir Peter Jackson has rejected accusations 27 animals were mistreated and died during the making of The Hobbit trilogy.
Animal lobby group PETA alleges five horses, a pony, and several goats, sheep, and chickens were maimed or killed while being housed off set.
PETA says the farm where the animals were kept was filled with bluffs, sinkholes and other “death traps”. The group is planning a protest at next week’s worldwide premiere of The Hobbit in Wellington.
Sir Peter says the allegations are false and made by disgruntled on-set animal trainers, dismissed from the film’s production more than a year ago.
“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,” his statement says.
Matt Dravitzki, a spokesperson for the Oscar-winning director, says hundreds of thousands of dollars was spent at the beginning of last year to upgrade the stables and facilities after a horse and a pony died in a paddock they were in.
He says the two animals fell down an embankment which wasn’t fenced - the horse did so after being spooked.
Other deaths on the farm included one 8-year-old sheep which died of old age, three goat deaths, of which two died in an unscheduled cold snap and two chickens which died of natural causes, says Mr Dravitzki.
Sir Peter says the American Humane Association (AHA) was even part of the production and monitored the treatment of the animals.
“Any incidents that occurred that were brought to their attention as regards to this care were immediately investigated and appropriate action taken.”
“No animals died or were harmed on set during filming,” says Sir Peter.
Mr Dravitzki says animals were treated with the greatest respect during filming and the allegations are upsetting.
PETA’s list of mistreatment allegations includes:
- Shanghai the horse had all his legs tied together because he was too energetic for its rider. The horse was left with rope burns which were covered in make-up afterwards
- One horse died after falling off an embankment in an over-crowded paddock
- One horse died and another was injured after being put in the same paddock with two aggressive male horses
- One horse died after being fed too much food
- Barbed wire tore skin and muscle from one horse’s leg
- Numerous goats and sheep died from worm infestations
- Other goats and sheep died after falling into sink holes in a paddock
- Unsupervised dogs mauled a number of chickens
- Other chickens were trampled on and died
Sir Peter says all of these allegations are being investigated.
The AHA has also responded to the allegations and admits they do highlight shortcomings in its oversight system.
The animal protection agency says it monitors film sets but not the facilities where the animals are housed and trained.
The New Zealand SPCA has slammed the animal trainers’ handling of the issue, saying they were never approached about any mistreatment.
“This whistleblower hasn't had the courage of their convictions to get in touch in the first place, or give us a name or give us something to go on,” says chief executive Robyn Kippenberger.
She says PETA can “march up and down until the cows come home” but it won’t help the animals that were allegedly abused.