'The Hobbit' production responsible for deaths of 27 animals

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The production of "The Hobbit" trilogy is getting some heat from animal rights groups after it was revealed that as many as 27 animals died as a result of poor conditions on set.

In an interview with the Associated Press, a spokesperson for director Peter Jackson confirmed that horses, goats, chickens and one sheep had died on the New Zealand set, but didn't give a specified number. There were about 150 animals total held at a farm near Wellington while the "Hobbit" movies filmed. The spokesperson said that some of the animal deaths were from natural causes, and that once the casualties were reported the production company improved the animals' conditions.

According to animal wranglers involved in the production, the deaths were caused as a result of bluffs, sinkholes, broken-down fencing and other "death traps" for the animals. The American Humane Association (AHA), which is responsible for making sure animals are taken care of on movie sets, reports that no animals were killed during filming. PETA claims responsibility for putting the whistleblowers in this case in touch with AP and has announced that it will protest several of "The Hobbit's" premieres as a result of this news.

"Mr. Jackson, we hope you agree that what happened to the animals used for The Hobbit is inexcusable," PETA wrote to Jackson in a letter dated Nov. 16. "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 at WETA. Such techniques are extremely effective and will truly ensure that no animals are harmed. In the event that you feel it necessary to use real animals -- such as horses -- on set, having an AHA representative present is not enough to ensure animal safety, and the burden is on the production to take the necessary steps to safeguard all creatures who are a part of your shoot, not just the humans."

"The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" is due in theaters on Dec. 14, with "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" premiering on Dec. 13, 2013 and "The Hobbit: There and Back Again" coming out on July 18, 2014.

Photo/Video credit: Warner Bros., New Line
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