By Debbie Emery - Radar Reporter
As a wrath even more threatening than that of Mordor is being unleashed on him by animal rights groups, director Peter Jackson has defended the treatment of creatures on the set of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.
"The Hobbit production has always instituted swift and immediate investigations into any concerns of any kind over the treatment of animals under its care," said Jackson in a statement on his official Facebook page in response to the revelation that 27 animals died during the filming of the fantasy saga while they were kept on a Wellington, New Zealand farm that was filled with bluffs, sinkholes and other "death traps."
As RadarOnline.com previously reported, four wranglers on the big budget production became whistleblowers and divulged details including the alleged death of three horses and numerous sheep, goats, and chickens, sparking an investigation by PETA spanning several months.
Among the shocking allegations of abuse, neglect and torture are the fates of Shanghai, a horse who was allegedly hobbled (with his legs tied together so he couldn't move) during a location shoot and left lying on the ground for more than three hours because he was too active for his rider to handle. The resulting rope burns were then covered up with make-up and fake feathers – but the Lord Of The Rings director disputes the shocking claims of torture.
"A prompt and thorough investigation into the recent unsubstantiated allegations by the American organization, PETA, in to the 'hobbling' of a horse during the making of The Hobbit was undertaken. No evidence of such a practice was found to have occurred at any time," wrote Jackson.
"Further, the production contacted the owner of the horse concerned who provided the following statement: 'I am 100 percent happy with the return of Shanghai and his condition. In the term that he was leased he was picked up and returned to me two times. On both occasions there was not a mark on him and he was healthy and happy. He has shown no signs of ill-treatment. I would not hesitate in leasing him to the movie again.'"
The Oscar winner went on to turn the tables on the animal trainers, claiming that it was the staff members that shouted wolf who were to blame for any mistreatment. "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 more than a year ago.
"Reports of their actions are documented in several written statements dating back to October 2011," he stated.
"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," wrote Jackson.
PETA had previously sent a letter directly to the film guru, telling him: "Mr. Jackson, we hope you agree that what happened to the animals used for The Hobbit is inexcusable. We urge you to leave live animals out of future films and instead rely on the superb CGI technology that you have at your fingertips."
After receiving what they described as a "thoroughly unsatisfactory response" from Jackson, PETA revealed that they will now be protesting the world premieres of The Hobbit in New Zealand, England and the U.S and demanding a date of when they might hear the outcome of Jackson's own internal investigation.
As part of his public response, Jackson posted testimony from witnesses to the production down under, including a veterinarian who argued that all the animals received the best available treatment, actor Jed Brophy (who played Nori), and even the owners of the farm under the spotlight, who were appalled at the wild accusations.
"The animals were wonderfully looked after, being well-fed, well-housed, and well-treated. As both farmers and dedicated horse people ourselves we would have stood for nothing less," said farmer and District Commissioner for the Wellington Pony Club, Joy Gray.
"I feel that there is a certain amount of personal vindictiveness leveled at the production from individuals with their own agenda," Brophy went on to allege. "As is often the case in these situations, organizations will leap at the chance to gain publicity for their cause without seeking the truth.
"I can say with absolute certainty the production went out of their way to treat animals with the upmost respect and care," said the actor, who also appeared in the Lord Of The Rings trilogy.
The Hobbit stars Martin Freeman, Andy Serkis, Ian McKellen and Cate Blanchett, and is the first movie in the planned $500 million JRR Tolkien trilogy - it is scheduled to premiere in Wellington on November 28 and to hit U.S. theaters on December 14.
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