The organisation that grants the "No animals were harmed in the making of this picture" tag on films has been accused of hiding deaths and injuries of animals during production of some of 2012's biggest blockbusters.
At least 27 animals were alleged to have died during filming of Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and the Bengal tiger at the heart of Ang Li's Oscar-winning Life of Pi "nearly drowned", according to the Hollywood Reporter.
Despite the claims, both films were issued with the "no animals were harmed" approval by the American Humane Association (AHA). The report also alleges that fish were killed during the filming of 2003's Pirates of the Caribbean, and a husky was punched during Disney's 2006 film Eight Below
The report said that the AHA did not fully investigate the incidents. The certificates were granted because the animals were not "intentionally harmed or the incidents occurred while cameras weren't rolling", the report claimed.
The AHA denied the allegations. The article, it said, distorted the "work and record of a respected non-profit organisation that has kept millions of beloved animal actors safe on film and television sets around the world".
The report claimed that John Smythe, an animal trainer who worked on the set of The Hobbit, told the AHA that 27 animals, including sheep and goats, died from dehydration or drowning in water-filled gullies.
The AHA allegedly told him that the incident would be difficult to investigate because of lack of evidence. When Smythe said he could show AHA inspectors where the animal corpses were buried, the group responded that the deaths occurred during a break in filming. It "monitored all of the significant animal action. No animals were harmed during such action," it said.
The tiger who features in Life of Pi is reported to have almost drowned on set. Although many of the scenes used a CGI tiger, some featured a real animal named King.
An email printed by the Hollywood Reporter purported to be from AHA's Gina Johnson to a colleague said: "Last week we almost f*****g killed King in the water tank.
"This one take with him just went really bad and he got lost trying to swim to the side. Damn near drowned."
Johnson said the tiger was saved after a trainers swam out to catch him with a rope.
"I think this goes without saying but don't mention this to anyone, especially the office! I have down-played the f**k out of it," the email continued.
A husky dog was also reportedly punched in the diaphragm during filming of Eight Below, starring Paul Walker, a chipmunk was accidently squashed during filming of the Matthew McConaughey and Sarah Jessica Parker romantic comedy Failure to Launch and dozens of dead fish washed up on the shore during production of Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl after the crew took no precautions to protect marine life when they detonated explosive at sea for the film.
A spokesperson for the animal rights group Peta told IBTimes UK: "The AHA has been ineffective at preventing animal injuries and deaths. Over the years, some AHA monitors with good intentions have done their best to keep animals safe.
"But their complaints have routinely been ignored on set and by their own organisation. Now with even fewer monitors, animals have even less protection. Rather than paying AHA representatives to be on set to give their meaningless approval, filmmakers should protect animals by leaving them out of their stories altogether or by modernising their techniques by using computer-generated imagery, animatronics and blue-screen technology."
The AHA acknowledged that the deaths had occurred but added: "Far from allowing abuse or neglect to occur, we have a remarkably high safety record of 99.98% on set.
"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 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."