Animal welfare protesters target Hobbit

TOM HUNT
Last updated 09:17 20/11/2012
Sir Peter Jackson
ANDREW GORRIE/The Dominion Post
Sir Peter Jackson.
Wrangler Johnny Smythe
Fairfax NZ
CONCERNED: Wrangler Johnny Smythe.

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Protesters will target next week's red carpet premiere of The Hobbit over allegations of severe mistreatment of animals on the film. 

Sir Peter Jackson and Hobbit producers have issued a statement saying they ''completely reject'' accusations that 27 animals died due to mistreatment during the making of the films, largely because they were kept at a farm filled with bluffs, sinkholes and other "death traps".

''Any incidents that occurred that were brought to their attention as regards to this care were immediately investigated and appropriate action taken. 

"This includes hundreds of thousands of dollars that were spent on upgrading housing and stable facilities in early 2011.''

People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) said five horses, a pony, and several goats, sheep, and chickens were allegedly maimed or killed during the making of The Hobbit.

One horse allegedly had the skin and muscles torn away from her leg by wire fencing.

''In a movie that features CGI dragons, ogres, and hobbits, CGI animals would have fit in perfectly. Jackson could have made The Hobbit without using a single animal-and he should have,'' Peta's website says. The organisation reportedly plans to picket The Hobbit premiere in Wellington on November 28.

But Hobbit producers said they took animal welfare seriously.

''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.

''Over fifty five per cent of all shots using animals in The Hobbit are in fact computer generated; this includes horses, ponies, rabbits, hedgehogs, birds, deer, elk, mice, wild boars, and wolves.

''The American Humane Association (AHA) was on hand to monitor all use of animals by the production. No animals died or were harmed on set during filming.''

Some of the allegations were being raised by wranglers dismissed from the film a year ago. Some - but not all - off the allegations were new and would be investigated.

SPCA national chief executive Robyn Kippenberger said the organisation had received a complaint late last year and wrote to Jackson outlining a wrangler's allegations. The Dominion Post has a copy of the letter.

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Jackson never responded and Kippenberger said the matter had simply fallen off SPCA's radar during the Christmas rush. SPCA may still investigate.

American Humane Association's Film & TV Unit spokeswoman Jone Bouman confirmed the Hobbit set had been monitored by the organisation.

While it was aware of the accusations animals had died, none of those deaths happened during filming.

''Nevertheless, being a humane organisation concerned with the welfare of all animals, we did an investigation. While our jurisdiction over animals covers housing on-set, we recommended that safety improvements be made to the animals' living areas, and the production company was responsive, upgrading fences, improving farm housing, and educating farmhands to encourage them to use the same high standard of care on the farm as on the set.''

Hollywood has made animal welfare a stated priority for years.

In March, HBO cancelled the horse racing series Luck after three thoroughbred horses died during production. The network said it cancelled the show because it could not guarantee against future accidents.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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