Up to 27 animals used in the filming of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit have died on a New Zealand farm. Animal handlers working on the film claim that the deaths were preventable, and that the creatures were housed in unsafe conditions. The farm has been dubbed a ‘death trap’ filled with sink holes, bluffs and broken fences.
The American Humane Association, which monitors the treatment of animals during movie production (they’re behind all of those ‘no animals were harmed in the making of…’ clauses you see during the credits) says that none of the animals died during actual filming, or as a result of anything they had to do in front of the cameras. However, they have admitted that the Hobbit situation highlights a problem with the system; the AHA can safeguard against animal mistreatment on set, but not in areas where the animals are housed.
Horses, goats, chickens and one sheep are said to be among the casualties, with chickens being mauled by unsupervised dogs, and horses falling afoul of rough terrain. Jackson and the rest of the producers released a statement this week acknowledging the deaths, but denying any accusations of mistreatment:
“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.”
Some of the animals are said to have died from natural causes, but a spokesman for Jackson has admitted that the deaths of two horses were avoidable, and claimed that steps were taken by the production company to improve conditions following their demise.
Film fans, animal rights activists and many others have voiced outrage and upset at the news. Harming an animal for the sake of a movie has long been considered deplorable, and has been officially guarded against since as early as 1940. Well-known films refused a certificate by the AHA include Apocalypse Now, Rambo: First Blood and Conan the Barbarian. Although it is clear that no animals died as a result of actual Hobbit filming, these events are a sad blight on the production of what will surely be a well-loved film.