The Hobbit has found itself in an unexpected controversy.
The filmmakers behind the highly anticipated movie trilogy based on J.R.R. Tolkien's novel are on the receiving end of accusations that they helped to cause the deaths of up to 27 animals that were used in filming, supposedly due to poor living conditions on the farm where they were kept.
The Shire will never be the same.
Per published reports, several animal wranglers employed in the production allege that the New Zealand ranch near Wellington where Peter Jackson's production company housed and trained the critters had "death traps" in the form of bluffs, sinkholes and broken fences that resulted in a number of euthanizations.
Among those was a pony named Rainbow who was used as a Hobbit horse. According to the wranglers, Rainbow came running off a bank in the hilly area and crashed, breaking his back. He ended up having to be put down, while another horse was found dead after falling over a bluff and ending up submerged in a stream.
Yet another mount named Doofus sliced his leg on some fencing but managed to survive.
The goats and sheeps met their maker after apparently tumbling into sinkholes and contracting worms, while more than a dozen chickens had a grisly end after being mauled to death by dogs on two occasions.
Things were apparently bad enough that one wrangler and his wife quit in February 2011 and complained to Jackson's company, which, along with distributor Warner Bros., was ultimately responsible for the animals' care.
A rep for the Oscar-winning filmmaker confirmed on Monday that several horses, goats, chickens and one sheep died at the facility, where more than 150 animals were being kept, but pointed out that several of those deaths were due to natural causes.
The spokesman did agree, however, that the death of two horses could have been avoided but said that the company took immediate action to improve conditions, which included contacting the American Humane Association in August 2011 to investigate.
For its part, the organization, which supervises the welfare and wellness of animals in the film industry, issued a statement saying no animals were harmed during the making of the films and that it did probe the matter of the deaths and issued safety recommendations that Jackson's firm followed, including upgrading the fencing and farm housing.
But the AHA did point to an inherent weakness in the monitoring system, noting that it's tasked with overseeing animals on film sets, not in the living quarters where they are kept.
"We would love to be able to monitor the training of animals and the housing of animals," AHA spokesman Mark Stubis said. "It's something we are looking into. We want to make sure the animals are treated well all the time."
A spokeswoman for the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, meanwhile, sent a letter to Jackson detailing the litany of allegations from whistleblowers and arguing that the deaths could have been prevented if the trilogy's lead trainer and the head of production heeded the warnings of several wranglers.
"Peter Jackson's films have been at the forefront of the special-effects revolution," said PETA senior vice president Lisa Lange in a statement to E! News. "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 backward."
As a result, PETA said it's planning to stage protests at various Hobbit premieres around the world on the heels of the animal-abuse allegations.
As of press time, Jackson's spokesman noted that the production company no longer leases the farm and has no animals left on the property. It's also not known if any animals will be used in future pickup shots for the films, either.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey will have its world premiere on Nov. 28 in Wellington and is scheduled to unspool in the U.S. on Dec. 14.