Animal handlers involved in the making of the new Hobbit film have blamed the production company for the death of 27 animals, reports say.
Four handlers in total are accusing producers of failing to do enough to prevent the deaths of three horses, six goats, six sheep and a dozen chickens, which died as a result of poor conditions at one contracted farm close to Wellington, New Zealand, where the trilogy was filmed. The wranglers also claim that two other horses were injured but did survive.
The wranglers contend that one horse named Shanghai had its legs tied together so that it could not move and was then left on the ground for three hours. Another horse was killed and one injured as a result of being housed with two geldings despite the geldings being deemed too aggressive to be left with other animals.
Another horse was severely injured after having had much of the muscle in her leg torn away as a result of barbed wire fencing. Other horses were fed the incorrect food and one developed what would later prove to be a fatal stomach condition.
Several goats and sheep died from worm infestations. Others, from falling into the sinkholes that were dotted around the farm.
A number of chickens were also mauled and killed by unsupervised dogs, while some were left unprotected and then were trampled by other animals.
A statement by the film’s producers reported by Variety and other sources denies responsibility:
“The producers completely reject the accusations that 27 animals died due to mistreatment during the making of the films,” read the statement in part.
“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% 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,” it continued.
The statement does not, however, address the allegations that the animals died as a result of poor off-set living conditions that were preventable had the production team carried out better checks. The statement does go on to clarify, however, that the production company no longer leases the farm and that it has since moved all animals to different locations.
The American Humane Association (AHA), which oversaw animal handling on the film, clarifies that no animals were harmed during the actual filming of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.” For this reason, the film was still awarded the AHA’s “No Animals Were Harmed” certificate.
The AHA points out that because the deaths were not directly related to on-set production, it has only limited powers of oversight and therefore could not take into account the off-set conditions.
“We are currently only empowered to monitor animal actors while they are working on production sets,” said American Humane Association President and CEO Dr. Robin Ganzert in a statement. “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. 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 statement clarifies that in this case the AHA actually decided to go beyond its jurisdiction in order to visit, examine and make safety recommendations to improve conditions on the farm on which these deaths occurred.
“We must bring the same high degree of safety and humane treatment that has been achieved on the set to animals throughout their life, including training, housing, and safe, dignified retirement,” continued Ganzert.
This latest news will add more fuel to calls that the film industry should abandon its use of live animals altogether and instead use computer generated replacements.
PETA and other animal welfare organizations are now calling for a boycott of the films, the first of which will open to general release in December.
Image credit: Thinkstock.
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