Hobbit animal abuse claims: Warner Bros backs Peter Jackson

Studio denies the accusations, which it says come from disgruntled handlers who worked on the set and were dismissed with 'just cause'

Studio Warner Bros has backed Peter Jackson, the director of forthcoming fantasy trilogy The Hobbit, over claims that dozens of animals used in the production died unnecessarily.

Animal handlers who worked on the set of the Lord of the Rings prequel project have accused Jackson's production company of responsibility for the deaths of horses, goats, chicken and sheep, mainly because the creatures were kept at a farm filled with bluffs, sinkholes and other "death traps". They are backed by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta), which is threatening to protest at the New Zealand, US and UK premieres of the forthcoming debut instalment in the triptych, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, and has written to Jackson stating its concerns.

Jackson this week denied any ill-treatment of animals. Now Warner Bros has issued a statement in which the studio blames disgruntled animal trainers fired more than a year ago "for [just] cause".

"Warner Bros Pictures and [its subsidiary] New Line Cinema join Peter Jackson and the producers of The Hobbit in vigorously refuting and condemning accusations of animal abuse on the films," the statement reads. "The production acted swiftly and responsibly in addressing any incidents involving animals in its care throughout the long filming process, and in fact, measures were taken to protect all farm animals, including those uninvolved with the films."

"We question the timing of this misinformation – given The Hobbit's imminent release – and have no recourse other than to reveal that the primary source of these new allegations can be traced to freelance animal wranglers who were dismissed by the production over a year ago for cause. We are immensely proud of our association with Sir Peter Jackson, his dedicated film crew and the people of New Zealand."

Peta, meanwhile, has stepped up its campaign against Jackson and his team, calling for them to commit to using only computer-generated animals on forthcoming productions. A spokesperson told the Guardian: "Five whistleblowers reported more than two dozen animal deaths during the production of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. They raised concerns not just once but repeatedly to both the head wrangler and the head of production about the unsafe housing conditions for animals and about Shanghai the horse, who was hobbled (his legs reportedly tied together when he proved to be 'too energetic' for his rider). But their concerns were outright ignored."

The statement continued: "It seems to Peta that instead of vainly defending himself, Jackson should be giving a firm assurance that this will never happen again. He is the CGI master and has the ability to make the animals and other interesting creatures in his movies 100% CGI, and Peta calls on him again to do so."

Meanwhile, Lord of the Rings star Elijah Wood, who appears briefly as Frodo Baggins in the new trilogy, has also weighed in on the subject. "That [report] was the most ridiculous thing ever. It was really heartbreaking actually," he told TMZ. "I didn't even read the full report, I just read the response to it.

"It was heartbreaking because I never saw any of those kind of conditions when I was down there. All of the technicians and everyone who works on the films take the utmost care of the animals that worked in the film."

Woods adds: "The timing is so obvious as well. We're premiering the movie in less than a week. It's a shame."


Ben Child

The GuardianTramp

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