American Humane Association accused of ignoring Hollywood animal abuse
A view of the Hollywood sign from a street in a residential section of Hollywood, California [AFP]

A rights group that monitors animals used in the entertainment industry has dismissed a report that it turns a blind eye to deaths and injuries because it is too cozy with TV and film bosses.

The Hollywood Reporter lists alleged incidents on movies including Ang Lee's Oscar-winning "Life of Pi," the "Pirates of the Caribbean" blockbusters and "The Hobbit: an Unexpected Journey," among others.

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.

But the American Humane Association (AHA) said the story "distorts the work and record of a respected nonprofit organization 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 unrecognizable to us or anyone who knows American Humane Association's work," the group added in a statement.

In its latest issue, dated December 6, the Hollywood Reporter quotes an AHA monitor about an incident in which the bengal tiger central to Taiwanese director 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!"

Citing interviews with AHA staffers and documents including emails, 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 itself added: "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 percent 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."

[Image via Agence France-Presse]