Peter Jackson responds to rumors of animal cruelty on the set of The Hobbit

Accusations are flying that 27 animals died of mistreatment on the set of Peter Jackson's The Hobbit, causing PETA to get up in arms and protest the movie. PETA will protest just about anything, but is there some truth to this story? Jackson and his fellow producers have responded (through an official representative), saying that the 150 animals at the New Zealand location were treated well, and that the vast percentage of deaths that did occur were due to natural causes. But were there any deaths that could have been prevented? Or is this a case of disgruntled former wranglers? Jackson's rep says the animals were overseen by the American Humane Association after two "avoidable" incidents (including a horse found dead after falling over a bluff), and hundreds of thousands of dollars went into improving the animals' living conditions. Here is the full statement, via The Hollywood Reporter:

The producers of The Hobbit take the welfare of all animals very seriously and have always pursued the highest standard of care for animals in their charge. 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.

The producers completely reject the accusations that twenty seven animals died due to mistreatment during the making of the films. 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.

We regret that some of these accusations by wranglers who were dismissed from the film over a year ago are only now being brought to our attention. We are currently investigating these new allegations and are attempting to speak with all parties involved to establish the truth.

Here's a question: Why did it take the "avoidable" deaths of two horses to get the AHA on board when there were 150 animals on set? I'll admit to not knowing the ins and outs of big-budget pre-production and production when it comes to enlisting the AHA to keep an eye on the animals, which it actually only does during filming. But if an animal expert, such as former Hobbit animal wrangler (and complainant) Chris Langridge, says that the outdoor set is full of "death traps" for horses that run up to 30 miles per hour, and those horses need to do their running on flatlands that don't have streams underneath them (as this New Zealand location did), why wouldn't someone listen? But more importantly, why wasn't the AHA on the set from the very beginning, even if they aren't responsible for off-camera treatment of the animals? (They did, after all, make recommendations for housing upgrades, to which the production complied.) Was it an oversight, bad communication, total incompetence, or neglect? Then again, why would the accusing wranglers wait until The Hobbit's theatrical release -- over a year since they'd worked on the movie -- to speak to the press if this was so important?

In all, the deaths of nearly 30 chickens, sheep, horses, and goats that were not caused by traveling at great speeds in risky places were caused by bad feed, exposure, and wild dogs. Some did die of natural causes, like an aging sheep. But something is rotten in Denmark, and there are a lot of unanswered questions.

'Hobbit' Animal Deaths: Peter Jackson Responds [The Hollywood Reporter]


  1. Before anyone gets too up in arms about The Hobbit specifically i would be really curious to know what the standard procedure is for the movie industry in general.

    Legitimate question, anyone who has some time on their hands care to look this up?

  2. the outdoor set is full of “death traps” for horses

    The film set is a farm, is it not?
    Let us dwell a while on the concept of trying to make farms completely safe for animals.

    1. If I read this correctly, they let a horse wander around freely and it fell off a cliff.  The inhumanity!  Animals die.  People die.  Including on production sets!  This hyperventilation is what happens when people’s only experience of animals is through television, specifically Disney.

      1. At least the other horses didn’t give in to peer pressure, “If Sparkles jumped off a cliff, would you do it too?”

        Their sires/dams should be proud!

    2. Farms that have animals generally do try to make them safe.  It’s called ‘protecting your investment’, not to mention being called ‘not being an asshole’.  The cost of replacing animals is a tiny fraction of the budget of a blockbuster like this, one of the reasons that filmmakers have generally not cared about animal welfare except to the extent that it affects box office receipts.

      1. Not that PETA spend much more time picking their targets than filmmakers do taking care of animals.

        1. Not that PETA give half a fuck about the ethical treatment of animals anyway, given that they see it as more cost-effective to kill around 90% of the animals that are brought to their shelters, even the healthy ones.

          1. ethically! They kill them ethically!

            It ain’t about letting them live, but they need to read the EULA before you send them to the slaughterhouse. Or have it read to them. And they need to click.

          2. Number one on the list of “7 things you didn’t know about PETA”:

            According to government documents, PETA employees have killed more than 19,200 dogs, cats, puppies, and kittens since 1998. This behavior continues despite PETA’s moralizing about the “unethical” treatment of animals by farmers, scientists, restaurant owners, circuses, hunters, fishermen, zookeepers, and countless other Americans. PETA puts to death over 90 percent of the animals it accepts from members of the public who expect the group to make a reasonable attempt to find them adoptive homes. PETA holds absolutely no open-adoption shelter hours at its Norfolk, VA headquarters, choosing instead to spend part of its $32 million annual income on a contract with a crematory service to periodically empty hundreds of animal bodies from its large walk-in freezer.

          3. You linked to the Center for Consumer Freedom.

            CCF was set up in 1995 by Richard Berman, executive director of the public affairs firm Berman and Company, with $600,000 from the Philip Morris tobacco company to fight smoking curbs in restaurants.

            Do I even need to go on? Oh, what the hell.

            CCF has campaigned against a number of organizations, such as the Centers for Disease Control, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Humane Society of the United States and Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, and maintains several websites devoted to criticizing them… Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has responded “If you are in the business of putting veal or beef on the tables of America, and slaughtering more than a million animals per hour, and making an awful lot of money at it, you are going to try to neutralize PETA or other animal-rights groups”

            Short of actually quoting Hitler, you couldn’t have come up with a more disreputable citation.

      2. Farms that have animals generally do try to make them safe.  It’s called ‘protecting your investment’

        You would think so, but in  my experience of New Zealand farms, animal welfare is a very low priority.

      3. Now think back to “Dances with Wolves” and ask yourself: What did they do with all the now-tame wolves after the shooting was done?

  3. “We regret that some of these accusations by wranglers who were dismissed from the film over a year ago are only now being brought to our attention.”

    Odd. There was an article in a local newspaper in August and go removed from the parent company’s website shortly after it went up.

    AHA issued a statement at the time which clarifies what they were doing

    I would have assumed the producers would have been somehow involved in all that.

  4. PETA has no credibility in my opinion.  They are attention-seekers spraying their urban sensibilities onto anyone who comes into range.  Even before RTFA, I was strongly predisposed to dismiss the complaint.  Reading the article hasn’t changed that.

    FFS.  A chicken/sheep/goat dying in an accident = impromptu BBQ time.

    1. “urban sensibilities”  WTF? Gotta say, I see a lot more people wearing fur here in the city than I ever did out in suburbia.

  5.  The production company clearly wants to emphasize all the positive things they (eventually) did to cover their asses- the actual events that are being protested is somehow considered old news.

    The dead animals even had names: Rainbow, Claire, and Zeppelin. Hope they got some screen credit at least.

  6. See what happens when chickens and other farm animals are allowed to roam free?  They’d have been safer in small little cages where they can’t move around and hurt themselves.

    1. Is the “e” in PeTA not capitalised? That’s an interesting choice. As though ethics mattered less than the rest of the phrase. FUNNY THAT.

    2. But P.E.T.A. stands for People Eating Tasty Animals. They won’t cry over your burger unless it is tears of joy. See the former page at

  7. I sell vegetables at a farmers market and the vendors there lose animals all the time due to floods, feed, temperature, predators, disease, etc. (even with a financial and personal interest in protecting the animals).

    PETA doesn’t believe in domesticated animals at all, but can only promote their agenda by blowing up incidents like these (because most people wouldn’t put their own pets to sleep just to “free them.”)

    1. My family raises chickens, horses, and goats.  We’ve had many accidental deaths that really weren’t avoidable without first knowing that issue might occur.  Animals are hard to work with.  They’re unpredictable.  There isn’t much you can do about them unless you’re expecting the issue already.  And it’s often hard to expect an issue without having it occur first.

  8. It’s been reported in NZ that the Humane Societies only monitor use on-set, and that all of the needless deaths and awful conditions reported occurred in the animal holding areas some miles away.  This makes Jackson’s statement exceedingly misleading, at the very least.  Combine this with his role in rolling back decades-old labour laws in NZ, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to think of him as a good guy.

    It should be noted that it isn’t ‘PETA’ that’s bringing these charged to the media, it’s many people, including at least two trainers who were fired from shoot after repeatedly claiming about the needless deaths and the deplorable conditions these animals were apparently kept in. More information is available on the New Zealand Herald’s front webpage.

    1. “This makes Jackson’s statement exceedingly misleading, at the very least.”

      Do you hold yourself to a higher standard when making statements? re: Jacksons misleading one-sided view of things?

    2. It’s SOP to advertise for a dead horse if you need one for a film.  Somebody kills a horse and delivers it to your set, you still get your cert because it wasn’t done by anyone working on the film.

      1. It’s SOP to require dead horses in movies?  I can’t remember any.  

        Also, it would seem pretty straightforward to go to a large-animal vet and wait for a horse to die, then ask about using it in the movie.  There are a lot of horses out there, many of whom eventually die.

  9. As a vegetarian, I usually hate PETA for blowing things way out of proportion.  After reading the article and expecting to roll my eyes at them, yet again, this doesn’t seem to be the case.

    1. The deaths were largely due to safety precautions only being followed on set – and not having any oversight off-set in the holding areas / stables / farms where they live.

    2. The horses weren’t kept in a safe, enclosed, flat farm area like they were accustomed to and would run around in — it was filled with bluffs, sinkholes, and bad fences that tore one horses leg open.  From the descriptions of these farms, I wouldn’t want to walk around it with or without my dogs – let alone have horses frolic around in it.

    This looks to be a case of sheer stupidity more than negligence, but it sounds like Jackson’s team was egregiously stupid.

  10. Came to the comments to see a discussion about the issue at hand, instead found a Rickroll to hating on PETA. Disappointing.

    Anyway, the AHA only handles the animals’ welfare oversight while on set, but given these complaints, I wonder if they’ll expand to the animals’ off-set living arrangements?

    1. Ah, but precisely. The one thing rickrolling and hating on PETA have in common is that they’re never gonna let you down. Or turn around and hurt you.

    2. More seriously, just like another commenter somewhere overhead mentioned, I’d be really curious to know whether this is specific to The Hobbit, or whether this is completely systematic and is simply being brought up about the Hobbit because it’s more likely to get an audience. Somehow I’d be surprised that other movies are much better on this.

      The problem is that focusing just on The Hobbit is going to end up in the issue being discussed about just The Hobbit. Instead of the whole movie industry, in New Zealand and elsewhere.

      1. If someone mainly wants to bring attention to the issue, then it does make sense to take it public now, on such an animal-heavy movie, and when said movie is front in people’s minds.

  11. Why is the American Humane Society, a volunteer fundraising organization, overseeing animal care in New Zealand?
    Is there some failure in the ability of local animal safety organizations that should be brought to light? Is there some way in which the AMA is more capable in an unfamiliar terrain than locals? Or are locals just generally, ‘not right’?

    1. New Zealand’s significance as a film-viewing market is?… Right. The significance of the US? Right. Now guess which org is likely to have greater name recognition in the US: A local Kiwi one or the AHA?

      1. Kevin’s point is still valid.  Notwithstanding the importance of the American film-going market, the film isn’t being made in America.  How is an American organisation suited to make judgements about what is appropriate in an overseas territory?  

        1.  Overseas territory, not overseas moviemaking laws. Thankfully. Otherwise, you know, people could go to countries with inadequate human or animal rights laws and shoot their cruel, ideal movie and show it with impunity, and for profit, in the US.

        2. Appropriate, or legal? I’d argue that proper animal care depends very little on the jurisdiction. Adjusting for climate variations, of course.

    2. One might as well ask whether there is some failure in the ability of New Zealand acting talent that made it necessary to bring in overseas actors and actresses.

    3. Moreover, I would have thought that the legally empowered animal welfare group in New Zealand (the RNZSPCA, especially the related SPCA Horse Welfare group) would have taken a close interest in the matter. Groups like the RNZSPCA have got real legal power to inspect the animals and surrounds and enforce conditions upon the owner, or even remove the animals if deemed necessary. The American Humane Society can oversee all they like, but that’s about it.

  12. I guess I’m missing the significance of this.  I’m sure the entire cast was eating meat at almost every meal.  Surely the death toll from the movie production was much, much higher than these 30 animals.  There are some folks who don’t think animals should be domesticated, got it.  Most other people are OK with ending animal’s lives to increase their enjoyment of life.  That’s certainly a debatable point, but I don’t see how getting up in arms about a few animals on a movie set helps much of anything.

    1. I guess I’m missing the significance of this.

      Clearly. There’s a difference between killing animals for food and killing them for entertainment. Or killing them because you’re too stupid or reckless of devoid of empathy to take proper care of the animals entrusted to you.

  13. At the time of the chickens’ deaths someone reported seeing a short skinny person dressed in a green tunic and hat, waving a sword around and cackling with glee….

  14. Man, I hope Smaug isn’t the reason why all those animals died.

    On a more serious note: I hope Smaug eats anybody who has mistreated animals, if such a thing did happen.

    In case you can’t tell, I mostly want to see the Hobbit for Smaug.

  15. Has anyone given any thought to the trees, shrubs, and other of our green brethren carelessly injured or killed due to Jackson’s mad rush to make this film? Sure they don’t have faces, but they are living beings just the same! Treebeard would be ashamed!

  16. The person who is most at fault in the animal abuse cases is not Peter Jackson. It is the Animal Coordinator Steve Old. He was responsible for leasing that farm which was a hilly sheep farm unsuitable for horses. Several other suitable properties were put forward by the horse trainer that would have cost the same amount. He was also responsible for hiring staff that were not qualified to look after horses and vetoed every attempt of the horse trainer to hire suitable staff. He also prevented the horse trainer from making sensible training decisions. He insisted on letting his girlfriend train horses even though she was not qualified to even be riding them and caused many problems with their training when she did ride them. He also insisted on other unqualified people being allowed to ride horses.Steve Old also did not put any safe and appropriate training facilities in place. This was because he wanted to ensure he got the job by coming in under the budget outlined by another more qualified Animal Coordinator. He prevented the horse trainer from putting any facilities in place other than those that the horse trainer paid for out of his own pocket.Steve Old turned a blind eye to wilful abuse of animals – one case in which his own father was the abuser of a pig. This same person – Les Old – also sexually harassed a female staff member. When she told Steve that Les had groped her Steve fired her. Steve used production money and resources on his own private projects such as The Great NZ Trek. He pulled staff members away from caring for the animals on the film and sent them to do work on projects elsewhere during which time they were paid with film money. He bullied staff members into keeping quiet about any negative aspects of their work and told them they would be fired if they didn’t fall into line.The head horse trainer, another horse trainer and other wranglers resigned from the film after two months because their complaints about animal welfare were ignored and were not passed on to people higher up in the chain of command. Emails were sent after they resigned (in Feb2011) detailing everything that was dangerous and needed to be rectified. I understand that these emails have only recently been passed on to Peter Jackson.

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