Director Peter Jackson and the production team behind "The Hobbit" trilogy have spoken out against the claims leveled at them by a number of former animal wranglers who worked on the film. The accusations, which surfaced Monday, stated that negligence and poor facility maintenance led to the deaths of 27 animals on the New Zealand set of the fantasy epic.
Now, an official statement from Jackson and the production, including actor Jed Brophy, who plays the dwarf Nori in the film, has appeared on the director's Facebook page. While the team does not deny that the deaths of some animals, including two horses, were avoidable, the statement alludes to the wranglers' firing from set as the cause of the accusations.
"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," the statement reads. "Reports of their actions are documented in several written statements dating back to October 2011."
Brophy, who describes himself as an "experienced horseman" who has worked as a wrangler in the past, dismissed the allegations as simply vindictive and false. "I would not have allowed myself to be a part of any production that knowingly employed unsafe practice in the workplace in this way," he said. "I can say with absolute certainty the production went out of their way to treat animals with the upmost respect and care."
The Associated Press initially broke the story that one wrangler buried three horses, six goats, six sheep and a dozen chicken over time. The wranglers who spoke out against the treatment of animals on the "Hobbit" set claimed that sink holes and poorly maintained fencing led to the horse deaths and that dogs mauled the chickens on two occasions.
A spokesperson for the production admitted that two horses did die due to conditions, but that an investigation was launched immediately, which led to facility improvements.
The trilogy's first installment, "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" opens in theaters on December 14.