Just days away from its Wellington premiere, Peter Jackson’s hotly anticipated adaptation of The Hobbit has been embroiled in an animal welfare scandal.
The story erupted after the Associated Press spoke to wranglers involved in the production, who claimed that 27 animals perished “largely because they were kept at a farm filled with bluffs, sinkholes and other ‘death traps.’”
The report, which is based on information provided by PETA, stated: “One wrangler said that over time he buried three horses, as well as about six goats, six sheep and a dozen chickens.” The whistle-blowers also revealed that two more horses survived major injuries during the course of filming.
A spokesperson for the movie initially acknowledged that some animals perished unecessarily during the production, but maintained that most had died from natural causes. This was followed by an official statement in which Peter Jackson and co said they "completely reject" the accusations.
“The producers of The Hobbit take the welfare of all animals very seriously and have always pursued the highest standard of care for animals in their charge,” it read. “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.”
However, the statement admitted that some of the accusations had only just reached the producers, and that they were now being investigated. It added: "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. We are currently investigating these new allegations and are attempting to speak with all parties involved to establish the truth."
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey will be the first in a new multi-million-pound trilogy based on the J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel. It is being made by Peter Jackson, the director behind the hugely popular Lord of the Rings adaptations, and features an all-star cast including Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch.
The film will make its debut at a red-carpet premiere in Wellington on 28 November and will hit cinemas in the UK on 14 December.