Animal rights group accused over Hollywood abuses

LOS ANGELES - A group tasked with ensuring the welfare of animals used in movies and TV shows has dismissed a report that it turns a blind eye to abuse because it is too cosy with Hollywood.

The Hollywood Reporter lists alleged incidents on films including the Oscar-winning "Life of Pi," where it said the Bengal tiger which is central to the movie reportedly nearly drowned.

Twenty-seven animals involved in the production of the first of Peter Jackson's "Hobbit" trilogy died, it said, also listing other incidents in which a chipmunk was squashed, a husky dog was punched, and fish died in the making of "Pirates of the Caribbean."

But the American Humane Association (AHA) said the story "distorts the work and record of a respected nonprofit organisation that has kept millions of beloved animal actors safe on film and television sets around the world."

"The article paints a picture that is completely unrecognisable to us or anyone who knows American Humane Association's work," added the group, which confers the "No Animals were Harmed" stamp listed at the end of films it has monitored.

In its latest issue, dated December 6, the Hollywood Reporter quotes an AHA monitor about an incident in which Richard Parker, the tiger which shares a shipwrecked lifeboat with the hero of Taiwanese director Ang Lee's "Life of Pi" allegedly nearly drowned.

"This one take ... just went really bad, and he got lost trying to swim to the side," wrote the monitor. "Damn near drowned... I think this goes without saying but DON'T MENTION IT TO ANYONE, ESPECIALLY THE OFFICE!"

It cited the case of a horse dying in the making of Steven Spielberg's Oscar-nominated 2011 film "War Horse," and dozens of fish that washed up dead after the filming of Disney's "Pirates of the Caribbean: the Curse of the Black Pearl," apparently due to special effects explosions in the ocean.

A Spielberg spokesman said the Hollywood Reporter story was exaggerated, but essentially accurate in terms of its description of what happened on "War Horse."

"What they wrote was essentially what happened," spokesman Marvin Levy told AFP. "But there was no cover up ... the whole story is rather exaggerated in many places.

"Safety was the prime consideration throughout the entire film," he said.

The Hollywood Reporter's lengthy investigation claimed the AHA has a fundamental conflict of interest, because its funding came from two industry bodies.

"It's fascinating and ironic: from being the protectors of animals they've become complicit to animal cruelty," Bob Ferber, a veteran LA prosecutor who ran a city Animal Protection Unit until retiring in March, told the journal.

The journal added, in a long article on its apparently extensive investigation: "Once a distinctly outsider entity, which had to fight for its right to independently monitor productions in the first place, today the AHA has transformed itself into an entrenched industry insider."

The AHA defended itself, saying: "Far from allowing abuse or neglect to occur, we have a remarkably high safety record of 99.98 per cent on set." It acknowledged that accidents did occur. "Over a span of many years, despite our best efforts, there have occasionally been rare accidents, most of them minor and not intentional.

"Regrettably, there have even been some deaths, which upset us greatly, but in many of the cases reported, they had nothing to do with the animals' treatment on set, or occurred when the animals were not under our care."