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Peter Jackson and the AHA Address Animal Death Reports Surrounding 'The Hobbit'

By Michael Arbeiter, Hollywood.com Staff

Peter Jackson's upcoming The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey has excited many, promising the majesty that the director maintained through his The Lord of the Rings trilogy with the additional impish, fun-loving nature of the younger skewing tale. But a sour connotation has braced Jackson's forthcoming picture, as reports have surfaced that 27 animals — including horses, goats, sheep, and chickens — died during production of the films.

The Huffington Post reports causes of death that include euthanization of one horse following a crash-landing off a bank during shooting, the falling off a bluff and submergence in a stream of another horse, and the falling into sinkholes of various goats and sheep.

The Hobbit's onset animal wranglers, including Chris Langridge and Johnny Smythe, have directed blame at the film's production company for the deaths of said creatures. HuffPo reports that Langridge allegedly brought his concerns about the animals' well-being to the attention of unit production manager Brigitte York, but to no avail. Smythe claims to have been fired from production in October 2011 after vocalizing his own issues with the situation at hand.

Director/producer Jackson has released the following statement in response to these claims, affirming that none of the parties involved his film's production is not to blame for the passing of the animals, and that all measures were taken to ensure the safety of all wild creatures onset. 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.The American Humane Association itself has also released a statement regarding the described situation, expressing outrage at the deaths that allegedly occurred beyond the organization's jurisdiction.American Humane Association, which has protected more than a million animals in film during the 70+ years of its famed "No Animals Were Harmed®" program with a 99.98 percent safety rate on set, called the injuries and deaths of animals living at the working farm where some of the animal actors from "The Hobbit" were also being housed needless and unacceptable. The organization renewed its call to the entertainment industry asking for additional jurisdiction and funding to keep animal actors safe not only while they are working on set, but off set as well to address illegitimate suppliers of animals and to ensure proper training, housing and retirement of these important and beloved co-stars of film and television. In January 2012, American Humane Association sent letters to industry leaders seeking ways to work together to improve the welfare of animals off the set as well as on.

"We are currently only empowered to monitor animal actors while they are working on production sets," says American Humane Association President and CEO Dr. Robin Ganzert. "We do not have either the jurisdiction or funding to extend that oversight to activities or conditions off set or before animals come under our protection. There are too many incidents off the set and this must stop. It is vital that we work with the industry to bring the kind of protection we have for animals during filming to all phases of production."

Because of American Humane Association's monitoring of the animal action which included having a licensed veterinarian on the scene, no animals were harmed on set during filming of "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey." However, upon learning of injuries and deaths of animals while being housed at a working farm 186 miles from the main set and 26 miles from the soundstage, American Humane Association went beyond its jurisdiction and authority to visit, examine and make safety recommendations and improvements to the farm. These recommendations were implemented a year ago, bringing a higher level of animal welfare to all animals living on the site into the future.

"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," says Ganzert. "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."[Photo Credit: Warner Bros]

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