Peter Jackson and the producers of "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" hit back at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) Monday night, slamming the animal rights group of disseminating unvetted accusations that as many as 27 animals associated with the production died.
"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 said in a statement.
"The Hobbit" director said the production conducted a thorough investigation into allegations that a horse was "hobbled" during the making of the fantasy adventure, but found no evidence. They said the horse's owner reported that he was "healthy and happy" and showed "no signs of ill-treatment." Jackson and the producers said the production has always responded swiftly to any claims of animal abuse.
But PETA's charges go beyond one claim of horse hobbling. The organization has been agitating against the filmmakers for what it labeled, in a play on the film's title, a record of "unexpected cruelty" toward animals used on the production. The Associated Press first reported the allegations of animal abuse and neglect on Monday, resulting in vigorous pushback from "The Hobbit" filmmakers. The film's U.S. debut is mere weeks away.
Also read: 'Hobbit' Animal Deaths: Peter Jackson Denies AP Story (Updated)
A spokesman for trilogy director Peter Jackson initially acknowledged to The AP that horses, goats, chickens and a sheep died at a farm where about 150 animals were housed for the movies, but he said some of the deaths were from natural causes. The spokesman said the deaths of two horses were avoidable and that the filmmakers acted quickly to improve conditions.
PETA claims that a horse used by the filmmakers was torn up by wire fencing, another died after being fed large amounts of unfamiliar food, and yet another fell to its death after being herded into an overcrowded paddock. The organization also alleges that chickens used in the film were mauled by unsupervised dogs and goats and sheep died from worm infestations and from falling into sink holes.
"In a movie that features CGI dragons, ogres, and hobbits, CGI animals would have fit in perfectly," PETA said on its website. "Jackson could have made The Hobbit without using a single animal—and he should have."
For its part, "The Hobbit" team has dismissed many of the allegations as the work of malcontents.
"To date, the only horse wranglers whose treatment of animals fell below the production’s standard of care seem to be the two wranglers who have chosen to level this new accusation on the eve of the premiere of the first Hobbit film and who were dismissed by the production over a year ago," Jackson and the producers said in a statement.
The American Humane Association, which monitored the treatment of animals on-set, said Monday that, while no animals died on the set of "The Hobbit," any off-set deaths of animals used in the production were "needless and unacceptable."
“We must bring the same high degree of safety and humane treatment that has been achieved on the set to animals throughout their life, including training, housing, and safe, dignified retirement,” AHA president and CEO Dr. Robin Ganzert said in a statement. “We owe it to these hard-working and beloved members of our community, just as we work to take care of their human counterparts. Anything less is unacceptable.”
"The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" hits theaters on Dec. 14.