This World Lion Day (August 10), Joaquin Phoenix is joining Animal Defenders International (ADI) in calling on governments to act by voting to protect lions at the upcoming CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) meeting in Geneva, Switzerland.

Oscar-nominated actor Joaquin Phoenix said: “Literally fading away before our eyes, African lions are today perilously low in number. To save this iconic species, the macabre trade in their body parts and grotesque killing for fun have to stop. Governments must not stand by while the slaughter continues – they must act now.”

A draft resolution proposed by Nigeria and Togo for the Geneva meeting, seeks recognition that the legal trade in captive lions provides a cover for and incentivizes the illegal trade, resulting in the poaching of wild and captive individuals; regulation and monitoring of breeding operations; and greater cooperation between law enforcement agencies at a national and international level.

  • Lions have become extinct in 12 countries in recent decades and now occupy just 8% of their historic range.
  • In most areas where found, wild populations have crashed by around 60% in just over 20 years. Populations in West Africa are classified as Critically Endangered.
  • Around 20,000 lions remain in the wild, across Africa.
  • Since 2008, 6,000 lion skeletons have been shipped to East-Southeast Asia, thought to be mainly derived from captive breeding facilities.
  • In 2017, the US imported over 230 lion trophies, including skulls, bones, skin, and claws (in the UK, 20).
  • 84% of captive lion facilities in South Africa are involved in the sale of live lions, and 72% have knowingly sold lion body parts.

Although international trade in lion body parts is prohibited under CITES, South Africa has been permitted to set its own export quota for captive lions, whose bones are indistinguishable from wild individuals. Almost doubling since 2017, last year the government approved an export quota of 1,500 captive lion skeletons.

In an encouraging sign, a landmark South African court ruling on Tuesday determined that evidence had been insufficiently assessed before the quotas were set by the government, concluding, “Animal welfare and animal conservation together reflect two intertwined values” and that “the rationale behind protecting animal welfare has shifted from merely safeguarding the moral status of humans to placing intrinsic value on animals as individuals.”

Jan Creamer, President of Animal Defenders International, said: “Governments have the power to act, to stop the devastation of African lion populations before it is too late. We call on CITES member states to end the captive lion trade and stop the poachers.”

ADI, a member of the Species Survival Network of over 100 organizations worldwide, is active on a number of CITES proposals to protect other threatened species including elephants, rhinos, giraffes, jaguars, and great apes.

Wildlife is under threat now, more than at any other time in human history. Since 1970, global animal populations have declined by 60% due to human activity including poaching, illegal trading, and trophy hunting. More than 27,000 species – a quarter of all mammals – are now threatened with extinction. Inevitably, this global planetary change will affect ecosystems and the human population.

The first CITES treaty was signed 1975, and now has 183 nation signatories; CITES regulates international trade in wildlife and plants. At the Conference of Parties (CoP) held every three years, representatives of CITES member countries, debate and vote on proposals to increase or reduce species protections.

On World Lion Day last year, actors Joanna Lumley and Ed Asner backed an appeal to help ADI build a much-needed refuge for lions in their natural homeland. Now home to 26 lions rescued by ADI from circuses in Latin America, the ADI Wildlife Sanctuary in South Africa will soon welcome its first native-born resident, Kesari, who was evicted from his pride and is currently at Pretoria Zoo. Through its planned Jean Warner Sprague Education Center at the sanctuary, ADI will help raise awareness of the needs of lions and other wild animals, and the threats they face both in the wild and captivity, on one of the most important frontlines for animal protection.

Find out more and how you can help here.

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