In the upcoming film The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Bilbo Baggins encounters myriad dangers. But no one expected the animals that appeared in the $500 million trilogy to do the same in real life.
According to a report by the Associated Press, animal wranglers hired to oversee some 150 animals used in the films say 27 of them died because they were housed on a treacherous farm full of “death traps,” including bluffs, sinkholes and jagged fencing. The dead include a miniature pony called Rainbow, hired as a hobbit horse, who crashed off a bank on the farm and broke his back. When the wrangler found him in the morning, he was still alive, and later had to be euthanized.
The other dead animals include a horse named Claire (found with her head in a stream after toppling off a bluff), six goats, six sheep and a dozen chickens that were reportedly torn apart by dogs on two different occasions. Two other horses, Molly and Doofus, got caught in fencing and ripped their legs open, suffering significant injuries.
The wranglers for the movies say they tried to alert their bosses and production company behind The Hobbit to how dangerous the New Zealand farm was, but the animals were not relocated.
One wrangler, Chris Langridge, hired in November 2010 to oversee 50 horses, said he tried to plug some of the sinkholes and repair the fences himself. In the end, however, the task was too big: he was the one who found Rainbow the pony dying of a broken back. Langridge and his wife Lynn, also a wrangler, quit the production in February 2011 after witnessing several animals get hurt. They subsequently sent a letter to The Hobbit trilogy’s unit-production manager, Brigitte Yorke, describing the situation on the farm. Yorke replied with a request for more information, which the Langridges provided. They didn’t hear from her again.
Another wrangler, Johnny Smyth, said that even after Claire the horse died and the horses were moved to stables, the deaths continued. He alleges that a horse named Zeppelin died from stomach problems after being given a new kind of feed, though no autopsy was performed and veterinary records say the horse died of a broken blood vessel. Smyth says he was fired from his post in October 2011 after a disagreement with his boss about the animals’ welfare.
The Hobbit director Peter Jackson’s spokesperson acknowledged to the Associated Press that two horses had died unnecessarily, adding that the production company had taken swift action to remedy the situation, upgrading the animal housing in 2011 at a cost of thousands of dollars. A representative of the American Humane Association, which investigated the farm in late 2011, said the AHA “made safety recommendations to the animals’ living areas. The production company followed our recommendations and upgraded fence and farm housing, among other things.”
According to Jackson’s spokesperson, the production company of The Hobbit no longer uses the farm in question to house animals. He added that Jackson had adopted three pigs used in the making of the trilogy, the first instalment of which will premiere on Nov. 28 in Wellington, New Zealand.