Less than a month before "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" hits theaters across the U.S., the production team of the highly-anticipated adventure movie got slapped by controversy surrounding the deaths of 27 animals during the shooting of the film in New Zealand. A group of wranglers in the country claimed that the producers were responsible for the deaths of those animals due to the condition of the set, which was said to be filled with bluffs, sinkholes and other "death traps."
Quickly reacting to the allegation, the producers issued a statement on Monday, November 19, insisting that they were not to blame for what happened to the animals. "The producers completely reject the accusation that 27 animals die due to mistreatment during the making of the films," the filmmakers stated. "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," they added. The producers acknowledged the American Humane Association had monitored the production, but they didn't address the wranglers' accusation that those animals died as a result of the living conditions around the set.
Per The Associated Press, a representative for director Peter Jackson explained that horses, goats, chickens and one sheep died at a farm near Wellington, where around 150 animals were housed for the "Hobbit" trilogy project. However, the rep insisted that some of the animals died from natural causes. Still, the spokesperson admitted that the deaths of two horses were avoidable, and the production company had moved quickly to improve conditions after they died.
Meanwhile, PETA was also quick to weigh in on the issue. The animal rights group has stated its plans to hold protests at the premieres of the movie in New Zealand, U.K. and the States. PETA senior vice president, Kathy Guillermo, said, "We want to send a clear message to Hollywood that they need to be very careful when using animals and take all the precautions that need to be taken."
The first "Hobbit" movie will open nationwide on December 14. It follows Frodo's uncle Bilbo Baggins, who is swept into an epic quest to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor, which was long ago conquered by the dragon Smaug. Approached out of the blue by the wizard Gandalf the Grey, Bilbo finds himself joining a company of thirteen dwarves led by the legendary warrior Thorin Oakensheild.