Peter Jackson‘s The Hobbit: A Unexpected Journey hits theaters in just a few weeks. The highly-anticipated film is likely to have a huge debut at the box office, thanks to the many fans who will rush to theaters that weekend. With that said, some extremely disturbing news surfaced today that might turn away a few fans of the series. Animal wranglers who were involved in the making of the film have claimed that the production company is responsible for the deaths of more than two dozen animals. Jackson and the producers of The Hobbit have denied the allegations, but the claimed animal death count it too high to ignore.

CBS news is reporting that many of the real animals used on the movie may have suffered through death traps. The animal wranglers involved in the film claim that the production is responsible for the deaths of 27 animals, including horses, goats, chickens and one sheep. Some of the wranglers claim that the animals experiences all kinds of deaths; the horses fell over bluffs on the farm, while chickens were left outside and mauled by dogs.

Jackson and the producers have since slammed down the claims made by these wranglers, and released a statement to The Hollywood Reporter that rejects the allegations.

The producers completely reject the accusations that twenty seven animals died due to mistreatment during the making of the films. Extraordinary measures were taken to make sure that animals were not used during action sequences or any other sequence that might create undue stress for the animals involved. Over fifty five per cent of all shots using animals in The Hobbit are in fact computer generated; this includes horses, ponies, rabbits, hedgehogs, birds, deer, elk, mice, wild boars, and wolves.

But even though this statement claims that no animals died during the filming of The Hobbit(you read the whole statement at THR), Jackson’s spokesman Matt Dravitzki admitted in a different statement that the deaths of two horses could have been avoided.

So, it seems like no one wants to take responsibility for the deaths of these animals. We suppose it’s just a matter of who you believe, or whether you even care. Animal lovers who are fans of the series may find it hard to let this one go. 27 deaths is too high a number, and can’t simply be ignored even if Mr. Jackson is claiming the story isn’t true.

The Hobbit has already received The American Humane Association’s seal of approval which states that “No animals were harmed during the production of this film.” It’s unlikely that they will remove their endorsement since the film opens in just a few weeks. That, however, might not sit well with animal rights activists, who are already planning to protest the film’s debut in New Zealand.

What do you think? Who do you believe? Will you still see The Hobbit during opening weekend?

(via ComingSoon)