PETA US has alerted Peter Jackson, director of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, to a slew of animal injuries and deaths on the production's New Zealand set. In its letter, PETA US details allegations from four whistleblowers who worked as wranglers that all these incidents – including the deaths of three horses and numerous sheep, goats and chickens – could have been prevented if Jackson's lead trainer and the head of production had fulfilled their duties and heeded the warnings of several wranglers.
"Two horses were run off embankments and sustained broken necks on the set of The Hobbit, at least one horse was left lying on the ground with his legs tied together for more than three hours, numerous goats and sheep used for the production died from worm infestations and from falling into sink holes and dozens of unprotected chickens were killed by dogs", says PETA UK Associate Director Mimi Bekhechi. "Peter Jackson's films have been at the forefront of the special-effects revolution, but this production's decision to use numerous live animals and allow them to suffer needlessly and die takes the entertainment industry a giant and disgraceful step backwards."
Among the whistleblower allegations outlined in PETA US' letter are the following:
- Two horses were run off embankments by other horses in their paddocks and sustained broken necks. One was euthanised, and the other was found dead with her face submerged in a river.
- The production team also allegedly ignored wranglers' concerns over the danger that the animals were in. One wrangler was allegedly fired for expressing his concerns.
- A horse named Shanghai was hobbled (his legs were tied together so that he could not move) on set during a location shoot and left lying on the ground for more than three hours, reportedly because he was too active for his rider to handle. The rope burns on all of Shanghai's legs that resulted from the hobbling were covered up with make-up and fake feathers (long hair on the legs of some horses) for filming.
- A horse named Zeppelin died, likely of colic, after his diet was suddenly and drastically changed. The head animal wrangler allegedly declined a necropsy, and Zeppelin was quickly buried on site.
- The production's American Humane Association representative, whose expertise is reportedly in companion-animal medicine rather than equine care, was allegedly inappropriately friendly with the head animal wrangler and dismissive of the concerns of other wranglers. He was not present for many of the animal sequences.