Sir Peter Jackson and the producers of The Hobbit have hit back at allegations more than two dozen animals were killed while making the movie trilogy.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) has alleged that five horses, a pony, and several goats, sheep and chickens were maimed or killed during production.
The US-based organisation says it will hold protests at three premieres of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey around the world, including the world premiere in Wellington next week.
However, in a statement on Tuesday afternoon, Sir Peter and the producers of the trilogy said they have always "instituted swift and immediate investigations in to any concerns of any kind over the treatment of animals under its care".
Hundreds of thousands of dollars was spent upgrading facilities for housing animals while not on set.
They said a prompt and thorough investigation was undertaken into Peta's "unsubstantiated allegations" that a horse was left lying for more than three hours with its legs tied together on set during a location shoot.
"No evidence of such a practice was found to have occurred at any time," the statement said.
The horse's owner also provided a statement saying the horse showed no signs of ill-treatment and that he was happy and healthy on his return.
Sir Peter and the producers said the only two horse wranglers who fell below the production's standard of care were dismissed over a year ago and reports of their actions are documented in several written statements dating back to October 2011.
"The production regrets that Peta has chosen to make such a serious accusation, which has distressed many of the dedicated Kiwis who worked with animals on the films."
Actor Jed Brophy, who plays Nori the dwarf, said he was "flabbergasted" to hear Peta's accusations.
"The entire time we were on set, and when we were training with the animal wranglers employed to look after and train the animals for filming, I observed no mistreatment - in fact the opposite is true."
The American Humane Association, which monitors animal welfare during movie making, says no animals were harmed during the filming but noted it monitored sets only and not the facilities where they are trained.
Peta, whose protesters famously stormed an Italian fashion showed dripping with fake blood in protest at the designer fur industry, is not revealing what form its Wellington protest will take.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey will be screened for the first time in Wellington on Wednesday next week. Stars such as Martin Freeman, Cate Blanchett and Hugo Weaving are slated to appear on the red carpet.
Peta's Australian campaign coordinator Claire Fryer confirmed protests were planned around the world but said she "cannot offer any further specifics as to what we have up our sleeve"! she told NZ Newswire via email.
A spokesman for Wellington City Council, which is organising the red carpet event, said there would be an appropriate level of security so everyone could enjoy themselves.
The SPCA was critical of the whistleblowers for not contacting it at the time of the alleged abuses and leaving it months before contacting a newspaper anonymously, too late for any SPCA investigation.
Source [including video]: http://nz.news.yahoo.com/a/-/newshome/15420710/sir-peter-hits-back-at-hobbit-animal-claim/