The Hobbit bosses in animal welfare row
The first of three films based on an adaptation of the 1937 novel by J. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a prequel to The Lord of the Rings film trilogy. It will star Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins, Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield and Benedict Cumberbatch as Smaug. Several actors from The Lord of the Rings will reprise their roles, including Ian McKellen, Andy Serkis, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee, Ian Holm, Elijah Wood & Orlando Bloom. Bilbo Baggins (Freeman) is swept into a quest to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor from the fearsome dragon Smaug.
Producers on 'The Hobbit' film series have been accused of letting up to 27 animals die needlessly.
Four wranglers working on the film allege horses, goats, chickens and one sheep died at a farm near Wellington, New Zealand where they were housed for the movies because the facilities were filled with bluffs, sinkholes and other ''death traps.''
The crew members insist they repeatedly raised concerns about their farm with their superiors and the Warner Bros.-owned production company but the facility continued to be used.
While the American Humane Association (AHA) - which oversees the animal welfare of the films - said no animals were harmed during filming, they admit some of the deaths were ''needless and unacceptable'' but they have no power to monitor facilities where the beasts are housed and trained.
Matt Dravitki, a spokesperson for the trilogy's director, Sir Peter Jackson, acknowledged the deaths but said some where from natural causes.
However, the representative agreed that the deaths of two horses were avoidable, and said the production company moved to improve conditions 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 also stressed the farm is no longer used by the company and that the director himself had adopted three of the pigs used in filming.
Animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) are now planning protests at the New Zealand, US and UK premieres of 'The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey'.
Kathy Guillermo, a senior vice president at PETA, said: ''We want to send a clear message to Hollywood that they need to be very careful when using animals and take all the precautions that need to be taken.''