American Humane Association condemns Hobbit production company after 27 animals die

Update: An earlier version of this article incorrectly attributed these comments to the Humane Society. It was in fact The American Humane Association, a separate organization, which spoke out against the producers of The Hobbit. The Humane Society emailed us that “The Humane Society of the United States is not affiliated with AHA and we have not made a comment about the film or the unfortunate death of these animals.” We are sorry for the confusion and for misattributing those comments.

Apparently 27 animals died on a farm that was connected with production for The Hobbit, including three horses, over a dozen chickens and several goats and sheep. Some of the deaths sound like neglect and abuse, including a horse being tied up by its legs for hours, and chickens dying due to exposure. Other animal deaths were due to the poor conditions on the farm where the animals were being kept. The farm had a lot of dangerous terrain like sinkholes, creeks and dropoffs. Even more horses suffered injuries that were serious but not fatal. Four horse trainers repeatedly warned production that the animals were in danger, but their pleas fell on deaf ears and more animals needlessly died. It’s very sad and seems more than preventable. (You can read more about it here.)

Of course PETA weighed in on this early, and now a more legitimate animal rights organization, The American Humane Association, has condemned the production company. Representatives from The American Humane Association did visit the set in New Zealand to make sure animals were being treated properly. They signed off on production, but didn’t see the poor conditions where the animals were being housed until many animals perished.

In light of the shocking revelation that 27 animals died during filming of the The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the American Humane Association has issued a statement slamming the safety on the blockbuster movie set.

“The injuries and deaths of animals living at the working farm where some of the animal actors from The Hobbit were also being housed were needless and unacceptable,” said the association, which has protected more than a million animals and claims to have a 99.98 percent safety record, in an e-mail to

“The organization renewed its call to the entertainment industry asking for additional jurisdiction and funding to keep animal actors safe not only while they are working on set, but off set as well to address illegitimate suppliers of animals and to ensure proper training, housing and retirement of these important and beloved co-stars of film and television.”

The AHA had previously come under fire by PETA as despite there being a representative at the Wellington, New Zealand, filming location, wranglers revealed shockingly dangerous conditions on the farm, that was filled with bluffs, sinkholes and other “death traps.”

As previously reported, 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.

In defense of their staff member, the AHA President and CEO Dr. Robin Ganzert revealed to Radar, “We are currently only empowered to monitor animal actors while they are working on production sets. 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.

“Because of American Humane Association’s monitoring of the animal action, which included having a licensed veterinarian on the scene, no animals were harmed on set during filming of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

“However, upon learning of injuries and deaths of animals while being housed at a working farm 186 miles from the main set and 26 miles from the soundstage, American Humane Association went beyond its jurisdiction and authority to visit, examine and make safety recommendations and improvements to the farm. These recommendations were implemented a year ago, bringing a higher level of animal welfare to all animals living on the site into the future.

“We owe it to these hard-working and beloved members of our community, just as we work to take care of their human counterparts,” Ganzert concluded. “Anything less is unacceptable.”

PETA sent a letter to Oscar winning director Jackson highlighting the multitude of horrors on his movie set, and 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.

[From Radar]

This story is confusing, particularly that it’s coming out now when production is well over, and when improvements were supposedly made to the animals’ living conditions over a year ago. (Although for once I agree with PETA protesting something.) What I want to know is how bad things have to be on a farm for that many animals to needlessly die? It sounds like the trainers made it more than clear that animals were in immediate danger but that nothing was done at all until the American Humane Association got involved again. Honestly it makes me want to skip this film, although it’s going to be such a blockbuster I’ll have a hard time staying away.

Production was permanently shut down on HBO’s Luck after three horses died on set. Many more animals died here and no one in charge took it as a wake up call and just pressed on. Other than the bad publicity, I doubt that the production company will face any consequences here. This movie is going to make a ton of money and they couldn’t be bothered to spend just a tiny fraction more to make sure their animal actors were safe.

Also, director Peter Jackson has adopted three pigs used in the film. Did he do it because he loves pigs or was it damage control? Is he going to eat them as meat? I have no problem with that if they’re treated well, I’m just asking.

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48 Responses to “American Humane Association condemns Hobbit production company after 27 animals die”

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  1. Amelia says:

    P*ssed off.
    Very, very, very p*ssed off.
    You’re willing to fork out thousands and thousands of dollars to generate CGI backgrounds when the cost of keeping these animals safe would probably only be a tenth of that?
    Again; very, very p*ssed off.
    On a slightly lighter note, I love that photo of Martin Freeman seemingly playing aeroplane with the pigs nearby.

    • Tuxedo Cat says:

      I totally agree. It is scandalous that with so much money available to do things right, that they can screw up like this.

      I don’t know that I want to watch this again.

    • Liv says:

      Yeah, I’m mad too. I don’t get it. This wouldn’t have happened if Aragorn had been around 😉

      • Mimi says:

        Lol Liv.
        I won’t be seeing this movie because of this, and I am a die hard Tolkien fan. *angry face*

    • HadleyB says:

      This makes me so angry as well! First the dolphin stories I first read yesterday burned me up like no tomorrow and now this.


      I know eating meat will never go away, but there is no need to be cruel to animals because one is lazy, greedy or they are going to be used for food.

      I guess I will be skipping this film, and I was looking forward to it. Bah.

  2. RN says:

    I own a small farm and this makes my blood boil to read this. There’s never an excuse to mishandle an animal so badly that it’s injured or dies. Shame on them.

  3. pastyousayyouneverknew says:

    Animals dying, all in the name of entertainment, I am actually disgusted.

  4. Eve says:

    I’m skipping this one.

  5. Vivian says:

    I agree. Neglect and greed every where in our modern society. So disapt.

  6. Riana says:

    I know it’s your individual choice but I can only offer my hope that yes, you will skip it.

    It’s a film, it’s not worth lives.

    People often devalue animal lives but the reality is this wasn’t some ‘Darwin, that’s how nature is’ accident.

    They intentionally used these animals for their own profit and gain and THEN…they stopped caring for them completely. Complete and utter disregard while animals were suffering and died.

    That to me isn’t worth any film and I’d like to think while watching the film, if you do choose to see it, you would realize for every second of the film some animal was in great pain dying slowly.

    It is completely, 100% unacceptable and frankly speaking I wish there was some law that would scrap such a film and disallow any theatrical release for such crimes.

  7. Riana says:

    If you make a film and use live animals you are absolutely responsible for caring for them. PERIOD. PERIOD. They failed in basic human compassion and empathy.

    I’m very ashamed of the producers, directors, what have you that were involved in this crime.

  8. KellyinSeattle says:

    I’m boycotting the movie….couldn’t they have used computer imaging for the animals? I know they just did in that movie about the boy trapped in a boat with a tiger…forget the name.

  9. StephanieMarie2685 says:

    This is beyond disgusting.
    It’s disturbing and even more so, the number of people who are going to ignore this and go and see the movie anyway…Shameful.

  10. Erinn says:

    I’m really upset by this, but there is no way I am skipping this film. I know it’s a terrible thing that happened.

    However, clearly the working farm that the animals were being held at was not equipped to do so. The whole blame should not be on production, but on the farm as well. The owners of that farm should have known better. The wranglers that were working with these animals on a daily basis should have been doing something about the living arrangements as well. Why is all of this information coming out a YEAR after it happened?

    That farm clearly had problems with housing it’s own animals before the filming even started if you look at it as far as the sink holes go. Now what I’m curious about is who owned the animals. Did the working farm own the chickens that got killed? Did they get killed by poor housing by the owner, or was it related directly to the production?

    Please don’t jump on me, but from reading that, it seems like the horses were possibly more of the fault of the production company, but the sheep and chickens were just sheep and chickens owned by that farm. Doesn’t excuse it, but I certainly am not going to condemn a movie I’ve been waiting years to see for this.

    • RN says:

      You’re rationalizing it. Just admit you want to see the film and don’t bother trying to explain away the cruel deaths.

      Now I have to go out to the barn and take care of my animals. It’s almost light here. I’m going to give them extra love today.

    • katiebob says:

      so just rationalize the abuse and neglect so you don’t feel guilty for going to see the movie…is that really what we’ve come to as humans??

      • Erinn says:

        I wasn’t going to feel guilty for seeing the movie in the first place, thanks. I have said I think this is a horrible circumstance, but none of the animals died while filming. It was not Peter Jackson’s job to go and check on every single animal, and their health. Vets, handlers, and the farm that was housing them have that responsibility. The farm had problems with sink holes. They had a dog kill chickens. I don’t think those are the production company’s fault.

    • Erinn says:

      Oh come on guys. Don’t be like that. I’m allowed to go to the movie just as much as you are allowed not to. I have raised sheep and calves. I have always treated the animals with the utmost kindness. I do think it’s sick what has happened, but to blame a production company for the deaths of a farms animals that weren’t under their care is ridiculous.

      There’s a difference between rationalizing, and being rational. I’m being rational. I’m not going to jump down their throats for something that MIGHT NOT have been their fault.

      For you to say “Just admit you want to see the film” is the same as the people who never intended to see the film in the first place, and are saying that they’re going to boycott it for the animal deaths.

      • Hope says:

        Thank you, Erinn, for being one of the only rational people in the comments. The housing and care AT THE WORKING FARM was flawed. Yes, production should have found a better place to house their animals. And yes, its tragic that the animals died. But to blame the production company alone is asinine. That farm should be shut down.

      • BestJess says:

        Ignore it, most people outraged will have a freezer stocked with meat produced in factory farms where the conditions are horrendously inhumane. They will have battery eggs and will contribute to the industries mass slaughter of male chicks because they’re not profitable. They will have milk produced by overworked cows whose calves are ripped from them. They will have cupboards full of rat poison that causes an animal (rats feel pain too) to slowly bleed to death internally. The hypocrisy when it comes to animal rights is enormous.

  11. Erin says:

    This is shameful. I worked on a horse ranch that also housed cows, pigs, sheep and goats for years and nothing like this ever happened – and it will not happen IF you are CAREFUL with the animals. Horses in particular are extremely delicate creatures. Things as simple as treating a horse improperly for a bellyache (colic) can kill it. Bottom line is the people in charge as far as decision making for the animals DID NOT CARE. period. there is no excuse for this 🙁

  12. Katyusha says:

    Celebitchy, not to sound like a know-it-all, but I’m saying this so there’s no confusion; The Humane Society is for animal welfare, not rights. PETA is for animal rights.

    I don’t want The HSUS getting thrown into (or being thought of) the radical “rights” category!

    • Fancyamazon says:

      ^THIS is an important point.

    • Leigh_S says:

      Hate to tell you, but HSUS has essentially the same mission as PETA at this point, they just have a more stealth approach to animal rights.

      They USED to be animal welfare but those days are far, far behind them.

  13. apsutter says:

    This is completely disgusting and now I know to avoid this movie. They spent hundreds of millions to make this movie and couldn’t be bothered to give basic humane care of these animals. This freakin sickens me and reminds me of “Milo and Otis.” As soon as I learned of the abuse and deaths of the cats and dogs from that film I vowed to never watch it again.

  14. GoodCapon says:

    Why the f**k are they only releasing a statement when the production is already done and dusted?

    Anyway, from what I understand, the animals which died weren’t part of The Hobbit set but were only kept in the same farm as the animals which were part of the production, correct? If so, does the production really have ANY responsibility for the other animals? Regardless of that, I think a thousand dollars (read: pocket change for the producers) to ensure the safety of the other farm animals could’ve gone a long way.

    I know Luck was cancelled because of the horses’ deaths but it was only a TV series. If that happens in a film production can they still pull the plug on it?

  15. Katyusha says:

    I read in another article that a horse went over a cliff and was found with his head submerged in a creek. :*(

    Absolutely horrible.

  16. sam says:

    Its actually kind of an old story. I’m a huge animal lover and protest any cruelty and am a member and volunteer of an animal protection organisation – and I also grew up on a farm, and know the reality of looking after animals (and living off them).

    Can I just ask what jurisdiction do PETA actually have in the real world? When they say they investigated the deaths – what does that mean? The AHA appears to have done some work, and in New Zealand there is also the SPCA who can investigate/prosecute such incidents. What would be the benefit of Peter Jackson doing his own investigation? Especially when it sounds like they might have already tried to make improvements based on the AHAs guidelines?

    I don’t know whether to think that the story has been overblown because of PETAs involvement of if it really was a gross oversight. I feel like i need more information.

    Another thought… (perhaps a bit deep) where do we expect the responsibility of the director/production crew to end? Can they really control everything – especially if its outsourced? .. I dont know if I have that answer.

    • Lulu says:

      A thoughtful post Sam. I do know that this taint the movie for sure for me and many others who care for the welfare of animals. NOT ARA just to be clear.

    • Lulu says:

      Not on the set Gloaming. They died on the farm where they were being housed.

      • gloaming says:

        “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”

        ^ I’m reserving my outrage until all the facts are released. Please pardon me for not swallowing PETA’s et al’s allegations…..

      • Eve says:

        @ Gloaming:

        Just to clarify, this isn’t only about PETA doing its usual bitching. American Humane Society is also condemning this — at least, according to the excerpt and CB’s intro:

        “Of course PETA weighed in on this early, and now a more legitimate animal rights organization, The Humane Society, has condemned the production company. Representatives from The Humane Society did visit the set in New Zealand to make sure animals were being treated properly. They signed off on production, but didn’t see the poor conditions where the animals were being housed until many animals perished.

    • sam says:

      Thanks for the links – it helps to form a more balanced view of the situation. Unfortunately I often feel that any story from PETA is so grossly slanted that I can’t trust them.

      I’m still not at the point where i can 100% pick a position, but I can say that my farming experience has taught me that sometimes animals fall ill, die, or get injured and its not necessarily through negligence.

      I am glad that changes were made to the farm and that hopefully this attention will encourage better treatment of animals in future films.

    • Micki says:

      Thank you for the links!
      After first reading I was going berserk about the treatment of the poor animals although I think PETA is mostly drums and fanfare sort of org. After your link I decided to wait and read the final investigation statements. There are several discrepancies between PETA and production claims.

  17. Micah says:

    This is disgusting.

    The true animals of this story are the humans that let this happen.

  18. HoustonGrl says:

    Awful, disgusting, very sad. Will NOT be seeing this movie.

  19. themummy says:

    This is so disgusting and makes me feel so angry. I won’t be going to see this now. I’ve been looking forward to it for years, and even as of yesterday had a countdown going to December 14, but now I’m not going for sure. Nor is my husband or either of my kids. As a human this enrages me and as a vegan it just really hurts my heart. Maybe one day I’ll catch it on TV. I’m not throwing any money at it, though.

    People suck.

  20. nikko says:

    This is one movie I won’t be seeing; was never interested but now that all those animals died and no one did anything, it is definitely a no go and I’m going to post it on my page.

  21. jen d. says:

    Honestly, I kind of found the article confusing. So, after re-reading the article and a few others about this, this is what I took away:

    – None of these incidents happened on set. They happened at the farm where the animals were housed.
    – We don’t know that any of the producers had any idea what was happening at the farm. There’s every chance they did know and just didn’t bother, but there’s no evidence of that.
    – The AHA didn’t seem to have any problems with the animals on set. They did visit the farm a year ago (on their own time), made some recommendations, and those recommendations were followed.
    – Another article mentioned that 50% of the animal scenes were CGI, and that animals weren’t involved in the action scenes.

    I might have mis-read, and it was kind of hard to find a clear article about what happened, but that’s what I took away….

    As much as I love LOTR and The Hobbit, I’m kind of glad they’re getting the heat for this. Not because I think they were any more negligent than any other film set, but because this could scare other production companies into being more careful about where they source their animals. Honestly, I doubt that this will hurt sales for The Hobbit…

  22. Nymeria says:

    Not seeing this one. The lives of a few animals don’t matter to the production company, but they matter to me. If they are going to bother to source animals for a movie, they have an obligation to source the animals ethically.

    “The more I see of Mankind, the more I prefer my dog.”
    ~Blaise Pascal

  23. Aurelia says:

    I am in New Zealand. It was only 2 horses. Talk about exaggeration.

  24. Lauli says:

    Very sad. I’m not seeing this movie.

  25. jimthompson says:

    Um, AHA Condemns The Hobbit??? They were the ones IN CHARGE OF IT!! Please. More of the same. No one cares about the animals, it is all smoke and mirrors. They are supposed to be Checking The Housing! It is part of Their JOB! They are trying to backpedal and push the responsibility on everyone else when it was Their responsibility in the First Place! Shameful. Some other organization needs to take over AHA, what a complete joke!

  26. xM says:

    You guys realize that the production team has nothing to do with the farm right? They hired the farm, the farmhands take care of the animals. It’s their responsibility and that is why they were fired months ago when this happened. This story was reported back over the summer. The guilty were delt with in this horrible tragedy and it’s been resolved. Now weeks before the premiere this old news is being brought up again.