There is a big difference between a tender loin and a tender lion

There is a big difference between a tender cut of loin and a lionMuch to my surprise and of others concerned with the fate of imperiled African lions, this species has been popping up on menus across the country, as well as on various exotic meat websites. 

Restaurants in Arizona, Washington D.C., Chicago and New York have recently either served or hinted at including lion meat on their menus. With the exception of The Burger Guru in Brooklyn, N.Y., these restaurants removed lion meat from their menus after public outrage, finding there was simply no U.S. appetite for serving this iconic big cat.  In fact, a recent independent poll by Synovate found that 63 percent of Americans would no longer frequent an establishment if it served lion meat.

Nonetheless, restaurants, meat websites and butchers are selling lion meat here in the United States. That raises a very important question. Where is the lion meat actually coming from? The sites are claiming the meat comes from a mysterious “free-range” lion farm in Illinois, or sometimes a farm in the western United States. But investigations have shown that no such farm exists.

A new study published in Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, investigates the source of lion meat from these many different sites. Inquiries to determine the supplier of lion meat in the U.S. continually led back to the same source: Czimer’s Game and Seafood, a butcher shop in Illinois. 

However, Czimer refuses to disclose the source of his lion meat. The owner of this same butcher shop was convicted by a federal jury in 2003, after an undercover investigation by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service caught him buying, killing and selling endangered tigers and leopards as meat and trying to pass them off as legal lion meat.

To make matters worse, despite many of the outlets claiming the lion meat is government certified, no governmental agencies responsible for food safety and regulations can account for this claim. Neither the Food and Drug Administration nor the U.S. Department of Agriculture believes that it is liable for inspecting lion meat. With no federal agency claiming responsibility, the safety of the lion meat market is dubious at best.

If the African lion was protected under the ESA, no one would be allowed to serve lion meat and legal ramifications could be put in place to punish those who did. Luckily, IFAW and other animal welfare organizations petitioned to list the African lion under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in March 2011—however, it is now over a year later and a decision has still not been made, which means selling the majestic but imperiled lion as burgers and steaks is still technically, and unbelievably, legal.

With the species’ population dropping at an alarming rate—a nearly 50 percent decline over the past two decades, with only about 30,000 lions believed to remain in the wild today—there is absolutely no excuse for lion meat to be on menus or sold as a novelty in the United States. It is imperative the U.S. government take action and list the African lion as an endangered species under the ESA now. It is the best way to ensure the African lion can still proudly boasts its place at the top of the food chain instead of on a dinner plate.


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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
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