Less than a month before its due to hit theaters, the long awaited first "Hobbit" film from Peter Jackson is making headlines for all the wrong reasons.
The production crew for the three-movie epic shot throughout New Zealand is being blamed for the deaths of 27 animals kept on an "unsafe" farm outside Wellington. Animal wranglers for the production say the horses, goats, chickens and one sheep were subjected to dangerous bluffs, sinkholes and other "death traps."
According to the American Humane Association (AHA), none of the animals were harmed during filming - but the reports underscore a lack of monitoring outside film locations.
"We would love to be able to monitor the training of animals and the housing of animals," Mark Stubis of the AHA told the AP
. "It's something we are looking into. We want to make sure the animals are treated well all the time."
Matt Dravitzky, a spokesman for the film production, acknowledged to the press that the deaths had occurred, but added that some were natural. He did, however, admit that the passing of two horses could have been prevented.
"We do know those deaths were avoidable and we took steps to make sure it didn't happen again," he said.
Part of the changes included an audit by the AHA that included upgraded fence and farm housing. Dravitzsky says the production no longer leases the farm and there are no animals currently there. He also added that director Peter Jackson personally adopted three of the pigs used during filming.
For its part, animal rights organization PETA says it will protest "Hobbit" film premieres around the world.
"Peter Jackson's films have been at the forefront of the special-effects revolution," PETA senior vice president Lisa Lange said on 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."