Peter Jackson insists that The Hobbit wasn't a breeding ground for animal cruelty.
"The producers completely reject the accusations that 27 animals died due to mistreatment during the making of the films," the Hobbit director and fellow producers said in a statement Monday in response to allegations that poor conditions on the farm where the animals were housed during production resulted in the deaths of more than two dozen creatures.
"Extraordinary measures were taken to make sure that animals were not used during action sequences or any other sequence that might create undue stress for the animals involved," the statement, obtained by Gossip Cop, continued. "Over 55 percent of all shots using animals in The Hobbit are in fact computer-generated; this includes horses, ponies, rabbits, hedgehogs, birds, deer, elk, mice, wild boars, and wolves."
After local wranglers told reporters about a number of fatalities among the horses, sheep and other animals living at the farm, a rep for Jackson acknowledged that there had been some deaths—including two horse deaths deemed avoidable—but that immediate steps were taken to improve conditions where necessary, end of story.
"The producers of The Hobbit take the welfare of all animals very seriously and have always pursued the highest standard of care for animals in their charge," state the filmmakers. "Any incidents that occurred that were brought to their attention as regards to this care were immediately investigated and appropriate action taken. This includes hundreds of thousands of dollars that were spent on upgrading housing and stable facilities in early 2011."
They also say that representatives of the American Humane Association were called upon to investigate and then stayed to monitor the animals' care during filming.
The AHA has acknowledged that no animals died or were harmed during filming, but the organization called any injuries or deaths on the farm "needless and unacceptable." PETA has taken a similar stance on the matter.
"We are currently only empowered to monitor animal actors while they are working on production sets," says AHA president and CEO Dr. Robin Ganzert in a statement obtained by E! News. "We do not have either the jurisdiction or funding to extend that oversight to activities or conditions off set or before animals come under our protection. There are too many incidents off the set and this must stop. It is vital that we work with the industry to bring the kind of protection we have for animals during filming to all phases of production."
"We must bring the same high degree of safety and humane treatment that has been achieved on the set to animals throughout their life, including training, housing, and safe, dignified retirement," Ganzert said.
Meanwhile, Jackson and fellow Hobbit makers are wondering why former employees who have had nothing to do with the production for a year are bringing these charges now.
"We regret that some of these accusations by wranglers who were dismissed from the film over a year ago are only now being brought to our attention," they said. "We are currently investigating these new allegations and are attempting to speak with all parties involved to establish the truth."
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the first of a trilogy, opens in U.S. theaters Dec. 14.
UPDATE: Jackson also addressed the matter at length via Facebook, writing that an allegation from PETA that a horse had been hobbled during the making of The Hobbit was completely unfounded.
"To date, the only horse wranglers whose treatment of animals fell below the production's standard of care seem to be the two wranglers who have chosen to level this new accusation on the eve of the premiere of the first Hobbit film and who were dismissed by the production over a year ago. Reports of their actions are documented in several written statements dating back to October 2011," Jackson wrote.
"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—including trainers, wranglers, care-givers, farm workers and animal health care professionals—without properly vetting the source from which they received this information."
UPDATE: Warner Bros. Pictures and New Line Cinema also spoke up on the production's behalf: "The production acted swiftly and responsibly in addressing any incidents involving animals in its care throughout the long filming process, and in fact, measures were taken to protect all farm animals, including those uninvolved with the films.
"We question the timing of this misinformation—given The Hobbit's imminent release—and have no recourse other than to reveal that the primary source of these new allegations can be traced to freelance animal wranglers who were dismissed by the production over a year ago for cause. We are immensely proud of our association with Sir Peter Jackson, his dedicated film crew and the people of New Zealand."