Campaigners blast producers of The Hobbit movies after 27 animals die during filming of the trilogy
- Wranglers caring for the animals claim the farm they were kept at near Wellington, New Zealand, was full of bluffs, sinkholes and other 'death traps'
- Spokesman for trilogy director Peter Jackson says action was taken to rectify the situation after 'avoidable' deaths of two horses
By SUZANNAH HILLS
PUBLISHED: 11:59 GMT, 19 November 2012 | UPDATED: 14:57 GMT, 19 November 2012
The producers of The Hobbit have come under fire from wranglers after 27 animals used on set during the filming of the trilogy have died.
While no animals were harmed during the actual filming, wranglers claim the production company is still responsible for the deaths because the animals were kept at a nearby farm filled with bluffs, sinkholes and other 'death traps'.
Four wranglers working with the animals claim they repeatedly raised concerns about the farm peppered with bluffs, sinkholes and broken-down fencing with their superiors and the production company, owned by Warner Bros., but it continued to be used.
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On set: Wranglers claim 27 animals used on set, pictured above, died because of poor conditions at the nearby farm they were kept at
Concerned: Wrangler Chris Langridge claims the farm chosen to house animals used during the filming of The Hobbit, starring actor Martin Freeman pictured above as Bilbo, was filled with sinkholes and 'death traps'
Wrangler Chris Langridge said he was hired as a horse trainer in November 2010, overseeing around 50 horses, but immediately became concerned that the farm was full of 'death traps'.
He said he tried to fill in some of the sinkholes, made by underground streams, and even brought in his own fences to keep the horses away from the most dangerous areas but many were still injured.
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The first horse to die, he said, was a miniature named Rainbow. Mr Langridge added: '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. He was in a bad state.'
Rainbow, who had been slated for use as a hobbit horse, was euthanized. A week later, a horse named Doofus got caught in some fencing and sliced open its leg. That horse survived, but Mr Langridge said he'd had enough.
He and his wife, Lynn, who was also working as a wrangler, said they quit in February 2011. The following month, they wrote an email to Brigitte Yorke, the Hobbit trilogy's unit production manager, outlining their concerns.
Speaking out: While wranglers insist no horses were harmed on set, they claim three horses died because of the poor conditions at the farm where they were housed
Chris Langridge said he responded to Yorke's request for more information but never received a reply after that.
A spokesman for trilogy director Peter Jackson today acknowledged that horses, goats, chickens and one sheep died at the farm near Wellington, New Zealand, where about 150 animals were housed for the movies.
Spokesman Matt Dravitzky added some of the deaths were from natural causes but confirmed that the deaths of two horses were avoidable.
He said the production company moved quickly and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars upgrading housing and stable facilities to improve conditions at the farm after they died.
He said: 'We do know those deaths were avoidable and we took steps to make sure it didn't happen again.'
He said the company no longer leases the farm and has no animals left on the property. He said he didn't know if animals will be needed for future filming in the trilogy, but added that Jackson himself adopted three of the pigs used.
New home: The Hobbit director Peter Jackson has since adopted three of the pigs used during the filming of the movies
Other wranglers caring for the animals used during the making of the film have also spoken out.
Wrangler Johnny Smythe said that soon after his colleague Mr Langridge left, a horse named Claire was found dead with its head submerged in a stream after it fell over a bluff. After that, he said, the horses were put in stables, where a third horse died.
Mr Smythe said no autopsy was performed on the horse, which was named Zeppelin. Veterinary records say the horse died of natural causes, from a burst blood vessel, but Smythe said the horse was bloated and its intestines were full of a yellow liquid. He believes it died of digestive problems caused by new feed.
Mr Smythe added that he buried six goats and six sheep after they fell into sinkholes, contracted worms or died after getting new feed because all the grass had been eaten.
He said the chickens were often left out of their enclosure and that a dozen were mauled to death by dogs on two separate occasions.
Mr Smythe said he was fired in October 2011 after arguing with his boss about the treatment of the animals.
Making changes: A spokesman for the film director Peter Jackson said action was taken at the farm near Wellington, New Zealand, to remedy the situation after the 'avoidable' deaths of two horses
Investigation: The production company reported the incidents at the farm to the American Humane Association which made several recommendations to improve the farm facilities
A fourth wrangler, who didn't want to be named because she feared it could jeopardize her future employment in the industry, said another horse, Molly, got caught in a fence and ripped her leg open, suffering permanent injuries.
The American Humane Association, which has been overseeing animal welfare on the films, currently only monitors film sets but not the facilities where the animals are housed and trained.
The Association said the wranglers' complaints highlight a fault in its oversight system.
The AHA said in its report on 'An Unexpected Journey' that it investigated the farm in August 2011 at the production company's request.
Mark Stubis, an association spokesman, said: 'We made safety recommendations to the animals' living areas.
Back again: Actor Ian McKellen, pictured on The Hobbit set in costume as Gandalf, also appeared in The Lord Of The Rings movies
'The production company followed our recommendations and upgraded fence and farm housing, among other things.'
Mr Stubis said the association acknowledges that what happens off-set remains a blind spot in its oversight.
He said: 'We would love to be able to monitor the training of animals and the housing of animals. It's something we are looking into. We want to make sure the animals are treated well all the time.'
'The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey', the first movie in the planned $500 million trilogy, is scheduled to launch with a red-carpet premiere in Wellington later this month.
The film will then open at theaters around the world in December.
The animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals says it's planning protests at the premieres in New Zealand, the U.S. and the UK.
Highly anticipated: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is the first installment of the trilogy and will be released later this year
Read more: Campaigners blast producers of The Hobbit movies after 27 animals die during filming of the trilogy | Mail Online
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