New Zealand has been buzzing with excitement at the upcoming release of The Hobbit, but disturbing allegations of a slew of animal deaths on set have left a dark shadow over the film’s release. While audiences will see an adventure story set in a fantasy world, for the animals involved in the filming the abuse and neglect that they experienced were far too real. In all, five horses, 12 chickens, a pony, and several goats and sheep were allegedly maimed or killed, and according to whistleblowers, all these incidents could have been prevented if director Peter Jackson’s lead trainer and the head of production had fulfilled their duties and heeded the warnings of several wranglers.
Reports of animal neglect coming from whistleblowers include the story of a horse named Shanghai who was hobbled (his legs were tied together so that he couldn’t move) and left on the ground for three hours because he was too energetic for his rider. Afterward, in order to hide his rope burns for filming, his legs were covered with makeup and hair. Hobbling is an outright violation of the American Humane Association’s (AHA) guidelines.
More alleged abuse took place where the animals were housed, with one horse killed and another injured after being placed with two highly strung geldings, despite concerns that the geldings would be too aggressive. Another horse was reportedly killed after falling off an embankment in a severely crowded paddock. Yet another horse died when the horses were moved to the stables, probably from colic, an extremely painful illness, after being fed large amounts of food that he wasn’t used to.
After this incident, the horses were reportedly moved back to the paddocks, where another horse had the skin and muscles of her leg torn away by wire fencing. It has also been reported that several goats and sheep died from worm infestations and from falling into the sinkholes that covered the farm, and 12 chickens were mauled and killed by unsupervised dogs or trampled by other animals when left unprotected.
It is astonishing that these events could happen when the unit production manager was warned by his wranglers and the production was monitored by the AHA! Even more astonishing is that this movie was directed by Peter Jackson, a master at computer-generated imagery (CGI). 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. Hurting and killing animals for the sake of a movie is unacceptable, not to mention preventable. And in the end, animals are not ours to use for entertainment or any other purpose.
Posted by Jason Baker