Hobbit Film Blamed For 27 Animal Deaths

Hobbit Film Blamed For 27 Animal Deaths

Animal handlers involved in the making of The Hobbit trilogy have blamed the production company for the deaths of up to 27 animals.

Horses, goats, chickens and one sheep died at a farm near Wellington, New Zealand, which was filled with "death traps", according to the handlers.

The American Humane Association (AHA), which is overseeing animal welfare on the films, said no animals were harmed during actual filming.

But it admitted there had been shortcomings in its oversight system, which monitors film sets, but not the facilities where animals are housed and trained.

Matt Dravitsky, a spokesman for the director Peter Jackson, acknowledged the animal deaths and said the production company, owned by Warner Brothers, acted quickly to improve conditions after two horses died.

He said: "We do know those deaths were avoidable and we took steps to make sure it didn't happen again."

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the first movie in the planned £314m trilogy, will launch with a red-carpet premiere in Wellington on November 28.

Four handlers said the farm was peppered with steep banks, sinkholes and broken-down fencing, and was unsuitable for horses.

They said three horses, six goats, six sheep and a dozen chickens were buried after dying at the farm. Two other horses were also injured, but survived.

One horse, a miniature named Rainbow, had to be put down after breaking its back falling from a steep bank. Another was found dead with its head submerged in a stream.

Some of the other animals perished after falling into sinkholes or contracting worms.

Mark Stubis, a spokesman for the AHA, said the farm had been investigated in August 2011.

He said: "We made safety recommendations to the animals' living areas.

"The production company followed our recommendations and upgraded fence and farm housing, among other things."

Mr Dravitsky said the company no longer leases the farm and has no animals left on the property.

He added that Mr Jackson himself adopted three of the pigs used during filming.