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]