Animal-rights organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is calling on "The Hobbit" director to use only computer-generated animals in his future work, following reports that more than two dozen animals, including horses, died due to negligence during the filming of the J.R.R. Tolkien adaptation.
In the latest volley in the back-and-forth over the reported animal deaths, PETA said, "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 percent CGI, and PETA calls on him again to do so."
The call came in a statement issued by the animal-rights organization late Tuesday.
Jackson has stated that more than 55 percent of the "Hobbit" shots using animals were computer-generated, out of concern for the animals' safety.
Since PETA first reported that more than two dozen animals died during the New Zealand production of film, which is scheduled for a Dec. 14 release, Jackson and the producers of the film have fired back at the allegations.
"The producers completely reject the accusations that twenty seven animals died due to mistreatment during the making of the films," a statement from Jackson and the "Hobbit" producers issued earlier this week stated. "The production regrets that PETA has chosen to make such a serious accusation, which has distressed many of the dedicated Kiwis who worked with animals on the films — including trainers, wranglers, care-givers, farm workers and animal health care professionals — without properly vetting the source from which they received this information."
Jackson and the producers also maintain that any reports of animal mistreatment were addressed swiftly, and that appropriate action was taken.
The film's studio, New Line Cinema, and distributor, Warner Bros. Pictures, also question the motives of the accusers, who 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 and New Line reads in part. (Read the full statement here.)
The alleged animal injuries included two horses dying while going over steep embankments; sheep breaking their legs in sinkholes, and chickens being mauled by dogs, PETA charges.
The majority of the alleged animal injuries and deaths didn't occur during filming but, rather, as a result of conditions on a farm where the animals were being housed. (PETA claims that a horse was hobbled because he was "too energetic" for its rider, but Jackson said an investigation was conducted and no evidence of the hobbling was found.)
However, PETA is unswayed by the fact that the incidents occurred when the cameras weren't rolling. The organization says that multiple whistleblowers repeatedly raised concerns about unsafe housing conditions for the animals with the head animal wrangler and the head of production, to no avail.
New Line Cinema has not yet responded to TheWrap's request for comment on PETA's latest statement.