PETA is calling on New Zealand authorities to investigate the deaths of several animals associated with the production of "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" and to prosecute the people behind the abuse.
In a letter addressed to Minister of Primary Industries David Carter, the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals argues that the production company should be held "criminally responsible" if allegations that it ignored reports of mistreatment of horses, chickens and other livestock prove accurate.
"New Zealand authorities must send a message to the international film community that no production, however high-profile, can get away with fatally neglecting animals," PETA Senior Vice President Lisa Lange said in a statement that accompanied the release of the letter to media.
The animal abuse charges have been an unwanted public relations headache for the film's producers, who are readying the premiere of the big-budget prequel on Dec. 14.
At least 27 animals were killed during production, PETA charges, while citing wranglers who worked on the film. The alleged animal injuries included two horses that died while going over steep embankments; sheep breaking their legs in sinkholes, and chickens being mauled by dogs.
The organization has called on the filmmakers and director Peter Jackson to use all CGI animals in future films to prevent future injuries to animals.
Jackson and the producers have hit back at reports that they ignored whistleblowers who raised concerns about animal abuse. They maintain that any reports of animal mistreatment were addressed swiftly and that appropriate action was taken.
In public statements, the film's studio, New Line Cinema, and distributor, Warner Bros. Pictures, also question the motives of the accusers, whom they identify as four animal wranglers who were fired with cause from the production of the film more than a year ago.
"Warner Bros. Pictures and 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 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," a statement issued by Warner Bros. and New Line last week reads in part.
Producers said 55 percent of shots involving animals were created with digital effects in place of live animals.