The tiger used in the hit movie Life of Pi nearly drowned in an on-set accident that was subsequently covered up by the American Humane Association, according to new allegations.
''Last week we almost f---ing killed King in the water tank,'' association monitor Gina Johnson wrote in an email. ''This one take with him went really bad and he got lost trying to swim to the side. Damn near drowned.''
The revelations come in an extensive investigation of the treatment of animals in the film industry published by The Hollywood Reporter.
Johnson then went on to try to cover up the incident.
''I think this goes without saying but don't mention it to anyone, especially the office!'' she said in an email obtained by the industry magazine. ''I have downplayed the f--- out of it.''
The association is the body that awards the coveted ''No animals were harmed in the making of this film'' tag to movies. However, the investigation alleges the AHA is often complicit in the abuse of animals, preferring to keep powerful producers onside rather than report problems.
The investigation highlights a series of alleged failings by the association that resulted in animal injuries or deaths.
In last year's Peter Jackson blockbuster, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, 27 sheep and goats also reportedly died when they were left unmonitored during a break in filming.
The association responded that it had jurisdiction over animals only while filming was in progress.
Other internal association documents revealed a dog was repeatedly punched in its diaphragm on the set of the Disney film Eight Below after the dogs got into a fight, and a chipmunk was dropped and fatally squashed in the 2006 Sarah Jessica Parker comedy Failure to Launch.
In another incident that was widely reported at the time, two horses died on the set of the film Flicka in 2005.
The deaths were ruled to be accidents but, while the ''no animals were harmed'' tag was withheld, a credit that said ''American Humane Association monitored the animal action'' still ran.
Overall, it was alleged the AHA ''distorts its film ratings, downplays or fails to publicly acknowledge harmful incidents and sometimes doesn't seriously pursue investigations''. In a statement responding to the allegations the society said the picture painted by The Hollywood Reporter of systematic cover-ups was ''completely unrecognisable''.
''Regrettably, there have even been some deaths, which upset us greatly, but in many of the cases reported, they had nothing to do with the animals' treatment on set, or occurred when the animals were not under our care,'' it said.
- Sydney Morning Herald