By Debbie Emery - Radar Reporter
A slew of animal injuries and deaths on the set of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey has been revealed by wranglers, who were disgusted by the dangerous conditions on the New Zealand farm that was filled with bluffs, sinkholes and other "death traps."
Four of the trainers on Peter Jackson's latest installment of the fantasy franchise became whistleblowers and divulged details including the deaths of three horses and numerous sheep, goats, and chickens, sparking an investigation by PETA spanning several months, RadarOnline.com has learned.
"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 sinkholes, and a dozen unprotected chickens were killed by dogs," PETA Senior Vice President Lisa Lange revealed in an e-mail statement to RadarOnline.com.
"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 backward."
Among the shocking allegations of abuse, neglect and torture are the fates of Shanghai, a horse who was 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.
A miniature pony named Rainbow had been cast as a hobbit horse but tragically he was the first to be euthanized after suffering an avoidable accident.
"When I arrived at work in the morning, the pony was still alive but his back was broken. He'd come off a bank at speed and crash-landed," revealed wrangler Chris Langridge, according to an Associated Press report. "He was in a bad state."
A horse named Claire died after being housed in a paddock on the edge of steep bluffs leading to a river with too many other horses and not enough grazing grass. She was run over a bank by the other horses and found in the morning with a broken neck and her head submerged in the river.
Yet another horse called Zeppelin died from colic after his diet was drastically changed, and instead of conducting a necropsy (animal autopsy) to investigate, it was covered up and he was quickly buried on site.
The wranglers went on to reveal how the farm in Wellington, New Zealand, was unsuitable for horses because it was peppered with bluffs, sinkholes and broken-down fencing, but despite them voicing their concerns to the production company owned by Warner Bros, it continued to be used. Over the course of the filming, one employee said he buried three horses, six goats, six sheep and a dozen chickens.
Langridge was hired in November 2010, as an equine trainer overseeing more than 50 horses but he immediately became concerned over the endless safety hazards and desperately tried to fill in the sink holes made by underground streams and built fences around the most dangerous areas. He and wife, Lynn, eventually quit in February 2011 and voiced their concerns to Brigitte Yorke, The Hobbit trilogy's unit production manager.
According to PETA, 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. They also claim he was not present for many of the animal sequences.
The animal rights group has now sent a letter to Oscar winning director Jackson highlighting the multitude of horrors on his movie set, including sheep that were housed with inadequate water and no shade, even though it was summer and they had their full wool coats. Numerous goats and sheep used for the production died, primarily from worm infestations and from falling into the sink holes that riddled the farm, and twelve chickens were mauled and killed by dogs who weren't properly supervised.
"The wranglers say that they repeatedly alerted your production company to the danger that the animals were in and that their warnings were ignored," wrote Lange. "Production reportedly did nothing and allegedly fired another wrangler for expressing his concerns about animal safety.
"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 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.
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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