SPCA: Hobbit complaints 'too late'
Tue, 20 Nov 2012 5:30a.m.
By NZN / AP / 3 News online staff
The SPCA says complaints of animal suffering and death during the filming of The Hobbit are useless if they are not reported at the time.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) says it will hold protests at three premieres around the world after alleging that five horses, a pony, and several goats, sheep and chickens were maimed or killed at a Wellington farm they were housed at during the movies.
The film's producers reject the accusations, which they say were made by wranglers dismissed during production, and that hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent improving facilities for the animals.
SPCA chief executive Robyn Kippenberger says it had been made aware of the complaints last year, but too late to establish if there were any truth behind them.
The American Humane Association - which looks after animals on set but not where they are trained - had responded quickly and Ms Kippenberger was confident they were doing a good job on behalf of the animals.
However, she was scathing of the anonymous whistleblower, who had complained months after the alleged incidents, without any specific details that could be properly and promptly investigated.
"People who report after the fact are just as bad as those perpetrating it because they are not making it any better.
"It's just rubbish, and now PETA are protesting The Hobbit but nobody has done anything... because nobody stood up and said this is happening.
"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.
"PETA can march up and down until the cows come home, it's not going to help the animals if they were abused."
PETER JACKSON: ANIMALS DIED OF NATURAL CAUSES
A spokesman for trilogy director Peter Jackson on Monday acknowledged that horses, goats, chickens and one sheep died at the farm near Wellington where about 150 animals were housed for the movies, but he said some of the deaths were from natural causes.
The spokesman, Matt Dravitzki, agreed that the deaths of two horses were avoidable, and said the production company moved quickly to improve conditions after they died.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the first movie in the planned US$500 million trilogy, is scheduled to launch with a red-carpet premiere November 28 in Wellington and will open at theatres in the US and around the world in December.
PETA says the use of the animals in the movie was unnecessary given the large amount of computer-generated imagery.
"Jackson could have made The Hobbit without using a single animal - and he should have," their website says.
"For the animals involved in the filming, however, the abuse and neglect that they experienced were far too real."
WRANGLERS DESCRIBE ALLEGED NEGLECT
The Associated Press spoke to four wranglers who said the farm near Wellington was unsuitable for horses because it was peppered with bluffs, sinkholes and broken-down fencing. They said they repeatedly raised concerns about the farm with their superiors and the production company, owned by Warner Bros, but it continued to be used. They say they want their story aired publicly now to prevent similar deaths in the future.
One wrangler said that over time he buried three horses, as well as about six goats, six sheep and a dozen chickens. The wranglers say two more horses suffered severe injuries but survived.
Wrangler Chris Langridge said he was hired as a horse trainer in November 2010, overseeing 50 or so horses, but immediately became concerned that the farm was full of "death traps". He said he tried to fill in some of the sinkholes, made by underground streams, and even brought in his own fences to keep the horses away from the most dangerous areas. Ultimately, he said, it was an impossible task.
He said horses run at speeds of up to 50km/h and need to be housed on flat land: "It's just a no-brainer."
The first horse to die, he said, was a miniature named Rainbow.
"When I arrived at work in the morning, the pony was still alive but his back was broken. He'd come off a bank at speed and crash-landed," Langridge said. "He was in a bad state."
Rainbow, who had been slated for use as a hobbit horse, was euthanized. A week later, a horse named Doofus got caught in some fencing and sliced open its leg. That horse survived, but Langridge said he'd had enough.
He and his wife, Lynn, who was also working as a wrangler, said they quit in February 2011. The following month, they wrote an email to Brigitte Yorke, the Hobbit trilogy's unit production manager, outlining their concerns.
Chris Langridge said he responded to Yorke's request for more information but never received a reply after that.
Wrangler Johnny Smythe said that soon after Langridge left, a horse named Claire was found dead, its head submerged in a stream after it fell over a bluff. After that, he said, the horses were put in stables, where a third horse died.
Smythe said no autopsy was performed on the horse, which was named Zeppelin. Veterinary records say the horse died of natural causes, from a burst blood vessel, but Smythe said the horse was bloated and its intestines were full of a yellow liquid; he believes it died of digestive problems caused by new feed.
Smythe said the six goats and six sheep he buried died after falling into sinkholes, contracting worms or getting new feed after the grass was eaten. He said the chickens were often left out of their enclosure and that a dozen were mauled to death by dogs on two separate occasions.
Smythe said he was fired in October 2011 after arguing with his boss about the treatment of the animals.
A fourth wrangler, who didn't want to be named because she feared it could jeopardise her future employment in the industry, said another horse, Molly, got caught in a fence and ripped her leg open, suffering permanent injuries.
Dravitzki, the spokesman for Peter Jackson, said the production company reacted swiftly after the first two horses died, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars upgrading housing and stable facilities in early 2011.
"We do know those deaths were avoidable and we took steps to make sure it didn't happen again," he said.
Dravitzki said Zeppelin died of a burst blood vessel and that he knew only of three goats, one sheep and about eight chickens that had died aside from that. He said two of the goats died in a cold snap but the third, like the sheep, was old and had likely died of natural causes. He said the chicken maulings were the result of careless staff oversight.
INVESTIGATIONS BEGAN LAST YEAR
The American Humane Association said in its report on An Unexpected Journey that it investigated the farm at the production company's request. Dravitzki said the company contacted the AHA after Smythe alleged mistreatment of animals.
Mark Stubis, an association spokesman, said it investigated the farm in August 2011, months after the first deaths.
"We made safety recommendations to the animals' living areas. The production company followed our recommendations and upgraded fence and farm housing, among other things," the group said.
Dravitzki said the company had already made many of the recommended changes by the time the AHA made them.
Stubis said the association acknowledges that what happens off-set remains a blind spot in its oversight.
"We would love to be able to monitor the training of animals and the housing of animals," Stubis said. "It's something we are looking into. We want to make sure the animals are treated well all the time."
Dravitzki questioned the timing of the allegations with the premiere so close but said the producers are investigating all the claims "and are attempting to speak with all parties involved to establish the truth."
He said the company no longer leases the farm and has no animals left on the property. He said he didn't know if animals will be needed for future filming in the trilogy, but added that Jackson himself adopted three of the pigs used.
Hollywood has made animal welfare a stated priority for years.
In March, HBO cancelled the horse racing series Luck after three thoroughbred horses died during production. The network said it cancelled the show because it could not guarantee against future accidents.
AP / NZN / 3 News
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3/12/2012 4:32:38 p.m.
David Wang wrote:
I take this issue seriously.
I love the LOTR films and am eager to see The Hobbit, but I can't watch it in good conscious if I know animals suffered to make it.
What I need now are facts.
An independent, unbiased, third party organization needs to look into the alleged claims and create a formal report.
This should be easy to do.
There's an easy trail to follow.
For example, "A horse named Molly became tangled in wire fencing in her paddock, tearing the skin and muscle from her leg." (source : Peta website)
Easily investigated. For example :
Find the horse named Molly and examine her leg. If there are scars and other evidence of injury, that's one fact in the whistleblowers favor.
"A horse named Doofus was housed with two geldings even though they had already injured the pony. He was subsequently found tangled in the fence, the skin and muscles torn from his leg, surrounded by hoofprints that indicated a fight." (Source : Peta website)
Find the horse named Doofus and examine his leg for signs of damage. Another fact corroborated for the whistleblowers.
Look, it's wonderful and natural to be excited about a film with the pedigree of Peter Jackson and the Tolkien franchise, but, we need to be responsible citizens of the world too, and that means being vocal when we learn about actions which are unacceptable to anyone of conscience.
So, to Peter Jackson, I encourage you Sir, to insist on a formal, independent investigation to lay this issue to rest.
If the claims of animal suffering are found to be true, I would expect a formal apology and a monetary compensation of the respective farmers and a commitment to have animal's housing conditions "off-set" to be monitored to.
I'm eager to see the movie, but not if it means I am tacitly supporting animal cruelty
2/12/2012 10:29:29 p.m.
Samual Cross wrote:
It'd good that people are against animals being harmed in the name of entertainment, let's not forget people are animals too & the purpose of Hollywood's multi-billion dollar glamorization of war, violence and weapons(as in the Hobbit) has always been to manipulated people, especially children to be cannon-fodder, many more humans will die because of this "entertainment". It's even possible the human race will be wiped out by generals in control of nuclear missles who saw this film when they were young, believing they are valient heroes.
This is my opinion, which I feel very strongly, I suppose I should be doing something about it like these admirable animal protests, good on them.
28/11/2012 5:16:16 p.m.
elizabeth olinger wrote:
My horse was looked at for this movie. I am so grateful that he did not go (too tall). I will say that Steve Olds struck me as a real 'animal person'. Obviously his judgement re the safety of the 'farm' was flawed. I will also add that if my Icelandic horse had gone there, I would have had to inspect the living area myself before I handed him over. My heart aches for the owners of the animals that died.
24/11/2012 8:38:31 p.m.
Censorship Much wrote:
The person who is most at fault in the animal abuse cases is not Peter Jackson. It is the Animal Coordinator Steve Old.
He was responsible for leasing that farm which was a hilly sheep farm unsuitable for horses. Several other suitable properties were put forward by the horse trainer that would have cost the same amount.
He was also responsible for hiring staff that were not qualified to look after horses and vetoed every attempt of the horse trainer to hire suitable staff. He also prevented the horse trainer from making sensible training decisions. He insisted on letting his girlfriend train horses even though she was not qualified to even be riding them and caused many problems with their training when she did ride them. He also insisted on other unqualified people being allowed to ride horses.
Steve Old also did not put any safe and appropriate training facilities in place. This was because he wanted to ensure he got the job by coming in under the budget outlined by another more qualified Animal Coordinator. He prevented the horse trainer from putting any facilities in place other than those that the horse trainer paid for out of his own pocket.
Steve Old turned a blind eye to wilful abuse of animals - one case in which his own father was the abuser of a pig. This same person - Les Old - also sexually harassed a female staff member. When she told Steve that Les had groped her Steve fired her.
Steve used production money and resources on his own private projects such as The Great NZ Trek. He pulled staff members away from caring for the animals on the film and sent them to do work on projects elsewhere during which time they were paid with film money.
He bullied staff members into keeping quiet about any negative aspects of their work and told them they would be fired if they didn't fall into line.
The head horse trainer, another horse trainer and other wranglers resigned from the film after two months because their complaints about animal welfare were ignored and were not passed on to people higher up in the chain of command. Emails were sent after they resigned (in Feb2011) detailing everything that was dangerous and needed to be rectified. I understand that these emails have only recently been passed on to Peter Jackson.
21/11/2012 9:54:32 a.m.
Thank goodness for organisations like PETA. Others seem to scorn them, but at least they have the courage to follow up the complaints and investigate. Until this came out in the news my partner and I had willed our house and property to the SPCA as our children are now financial well off and would only end up selling the house and property. A phone call to the solicitor this morning changed all that. Now we are seeking an organisation who works hard for the community and not afraid to put in a few extra hours.
21/11/2012 9:40:14 a.m.
@ MIKE; Hahaha right, wild animals are the same as domestic and milk comes out of the bottle and meat comes from the freezer. HA mayby in LALA land. Got any non lethal alcohol or tobacco in there, in your la la la la land?
21/11/2012 9:16:49 a.m.
This was in the news last year, I believe. The animals appear not to have been harmed during filming, but they did die directly due to the film production. If the human actors were housed in such careless conditions and treatedin such ways, there would be serious outcomes. By the way, Timing said something about union reps would have said something about it. There are no union reps in the New Zealand film and television industry. The current government forced everyone associated with the industry on to individual contracts. I still don't understand why it was the American Humane Society that was involved with this film and not the RNZSPCA from the outset. These deaths need not have occurred, nor should they have, had the animal training company done their homework and looked after those animal-actors correctly. Questions need to be asked about their methods and their competence in this matter. If they cannot feed and house the animals in their care in a fit and proper manner, one has to ask if their training methods are as incompetent. They are the ones taking the gloss off this movie for me.
21/11/2012 7:34:22 a.m.
whatever else may be said, the moment you're quoting PETA as a legitimate source, you pretty much discredit yourself.
past behaviour generally indicates that they are MORONS, and far more concerned with publicity than the actual animals, for the most part.
20/11/2012 1:17:31 p.m.
Take any horse racing event and the injuries and horses put down in that.Take outbreaks of horse flu which have shut down horse racing at times.Take steeplechase racing which puts horses over jumps where they can fall, even have horses land on other horses and riders.Take wild horses runing around on non-flat areas - these same wranglers will no doubt want such wild horses banned as they may hurt themselves. Do we send in the army to help remove such horses as has been done before by DOC?This seams to be some unhappy former employees wanting publicity and to do as much damage as possible to the NZ film industry.
20/11/2012 12:52:29 p.m.
Seriously! "Wellington" and "farm", should never be used in the same sentence!...unless you are referring to a wind-farm of course or maybe a funny-farm. There's plenty of places in NZ which have real farmland, suitable to carry large livestock safely. I'm yet to see any land near Wellington that fits that criteria. Silly stuff!
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