National Geographic News
A lion meat patty shown ready to cook.

A worker prepares a lion meat patty in an Arizona restaurant in 2010.

Photograph by Matt York, AP

Christine Dell'Amore

National Geographic News

Published May 10, 2013

A Florida restaurant known for its exotic choices in taco fillings—including beaver and otter—has come under fire for adding lion meat to the menu. The uproar has reportedly spurred the restaurant, Taco Fusion, to pull the controversial filling.

Reactions on social media had ranged from those wishing they could sample the $35 lion tacos to calls for an "eye for an eye." Tweeted @rhuffmanTR2h: "Woud I try a lion-meat taco? Only if lions are given the option of eating human shish kabobs. Save the lion ... I'm serious."

Others made threats via social media, while one man even came into the restaurant and took a swing at the general manager on Thursday, reported The Tampa Tribune.

This is not the first time U.S. restaurants and groceries have offered lion meat—legal for sale in the U.S.—nor is it the first time people have vented outrage over the offerings.

Earlier this year, an Illinois state representative tried to ban lion meat from his state.

Illinois Rep. Luis Arroyo's Lion Meat Act would make it "unlawful for any person to slaughter a lion or for any person to possess, breed, import or export from this State, buy, or sell lions for the purpose of slaughter."

Arroyo says he believes there are at least two sites in Illinois selling African lion meat, according to the Associated Press, though the legislator did not identify them by name.

Crawford Allan, an illegal wildlife trade expert for the conservation group World Wildlife Fund, said lions are farmed for meat in the United States to sell in restaurants.

"We have no evidence that lion trade in the U.S. is illegal," he said.

Richard Czimer, owner of Czimer's Game and Sea Foods Inc. in Homer Glen, Illinois, sometimes buys USDA-certified lion meat.

In his view, Arroyo's proposed lion-meat ban is "trying to curtail a choice" in what people eat.

"He's discriminating against all my customers and everybody who wants to try something new," said Czimer.

Czimer pointed out that hundreds of thousands of cattle are killed per day, while there are far fewer lions killed. In 2012 for instance, Czimer was able to purchase only two lions.

Yet "eating carnivores is mostly not a good idea," argued Luke Hunter, president of Panthera, a U.S.-based wild-cat conservation group that works with National Geographic's Big Cats Initiative.

For one, carnivore populations worldwide are dwindling—the African lion is listed as threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and is endangered in certain West African countries. (See lion pictures.)

Though wild lions aren't killed for food, there's concern that weak or poorly regulated laws regarding the ownership, breeding, and trade of captive big cats in the U.S.—in particular tigers—could fuel the black market for big-cat parts, Will Gartshore, senior program officer for U.S. Government Relations at WWF, said in an email.

Handling wild-carnivore carcasses can also be dangerous, Hunter said. Since the predators end up eating so many different animals, they accumulate parasites and diseases. In 2007, for instance, a biologist in Arizona contracted primary pneumatic plague after dissecting a cougar carcass and died shortly after.

Added Luke Dollar, grant-program director of the Big Cats Initiative: "While these aren't lions that have a realistic chance of roaming the African plains some day, the use of them for food animals has to be considered ethically questionable."

Exotic Meat on the Menu

Of course, that doesn't stop some people from consuming exotic meat. In the United States, some people eat legally hunted black bear—which is not considered threatened—Hunter said, especially in late autumn after the animal has foraged all summer.

The U.S.-based company Exotic Meats and More sells such oddities as iguana, llama, camel, according to its website. A similar purveyor, Buy Exotic Meats, offers emu, yak, and snapping turtle, among other animals.

Eating African lion meat is unusual around the world—including on the predator's home continent, where the meat is not considered palatable, Hunter said.

Yet there is a taste for meat of threatened wild animals in other parts of the world—"too many species to list," said Allan.

For example, he said that rare species on the menu include great apes in West and Central Africa; sturgeon caviar worldwide; freshwater turtles and tortoises in Asia; Asiatic black bears for bear paw soup in China; marine turtles in Latin America and the Caribbean, West Africa, and Southeast Asia; and some whales in Japan, South Korea, and Iceland.

Wild Animals Fair Game in Asia

By far the most exotic meat consumers live in Asia, where "most wild species are fair game," Hunter noted. "In Thailand in Vietnam, there are often wild meats available in restaurants"—including tiger.

In some Asian countries, tourist attractions called tiger parks secretly operate as front operations for tiger farming—butchering captive tigers for their parts and offering a potential market for wild-tiger poachers too, according to National Geographic magazine's 2010 story on Asia's wildlife trade.

"Tibetans wear tiger-skin robes; wealthy collectors display their heads; exotic restaurants sell their meat; their penis is said to be an aphrodisiac; and Chinese covet their bones for health cures, including tiger-bone wine, the 'chicken soup' of Chinese medicine," that article reported.

Hunter estimates there are between 4,000 to 5,000 tigers in captivity that are being bred for their parts and meat. (Seepictures of tigers in trouble.)

Lion bones from Africa are being traded to China as a substitute for tiger bones for tonic wine as well, WWF's Allan noted.

Panthera's Hunter said that Illinois's Lion Meat Act would be more effective if it promoted "conservation on the ground, rather than banning a fairly inconsequential trade of lion meat in the state," he said. (Learn how you can help protect big cats.)

"People might spend 10-to-15 bucks on a gourmet lion burger—I'd rather that .... they spend that on a conservation organization working to protect cats in the wild."

46 comments
Kelley Mazzola
Kelley Mazzola

For me, it's the ethics involved with this issue.  I don't disagree that cows feel pain and that we as a society eat an excess of beef to the point it's wasteful.  HOWEVER, in my opinion, I think that eating lion (and eating the meat of endangered species) isn't right.  Asian lions are an endangered species, like tigers, and, frankly, both species of big cats may go extinct in my life time in captivity.  Breeding them just to eat them, with no consideration to genetic integrity, seems counterproductive to conservation efforts in my eyes.  It's not a matter of morality with regards to "kill to eat," but rather a matter of preservation in captivity.

Jalyn Smith
Jalyn Smith

hahahaha you mad or nah ?? lions have killed humans and eaten us , now its THEIR turn .

Jordan Vetter
Jordan Vetter

First it's dogs and cats in China, now it's lions in Arizona. What's next, the Loch Ness monster in Scotland? 

Roswitha Bwanga
Roswitha Bwanga

See there is a difference between eating cows and lions. Cows are just naturally prey animals, so when we kill them it is totally different than killing lions for food. Lions are top predators, predators are not meant to be eaten by other predators, us, and as if there isn't an endangered species threat on the poor cats already! The nerve these people have, why don't we all just spend $35 on the next exotic (and endangered) animal to make a "tasty" meal for our pleasure...

Dawn Goodman
Dawn Goodman

Lions are close to extinction we don't have the right to wipe the species out for hunting or eating pleasure. God created Lions to serve a different purpose on this planet learn self control and let Lions exist.

Anne Sauter
Anne Sauter

I had no idea Lion meat was legal for sale in the US. this is an outrafe. It is horrifying. How can this be legal? It is so wrong! We need to pass a law to make selling and eating lion and tiger meat illegal in the US and everywhere. I hope the people who eat them and sell them rot in...you know where.

Kaki Dowling
Kaki Dowling

How sad... Humans, who are not even true carnivores, are the only species who eat  top carnivores...not out of  hunger-born desperation, but pure GREED and EGOTISM...

Gendo Ikari
Gendo Ikari

Farmed animals do not endanger the wild population. They are not taking animals wanted by zoos or wild cat preserves (which some states like Ohio have decided to shut down.)  

Guess what-- that resulted in even more dead cats than this restaurant.  Where was the outrage over shutting down private wildlife preserves and banning the private ownership of exotics?  

What about all those animals killed because of your stupid law?  

What outrage?  

Oh, that's right... there was none.  Every single animal that the zoos could not take (which was most of them) was executed.  Thanks to your "animal welfare!"

Gendo Ikari
Gendo Ikari

What makes some animals so much more important than others that you're willing to kill some by the millions but others are "too cute" or "too important?" 

Simple... like your religion you made it up.  You have no reasoning, no basis whatsoever. You have no right to impose your will on others, and surely not with violence.  

PETAphiles are scum. 

Gendo Ikari
Gendo Ikari

If these PETAphiles had any idea how many wild cats are killed each year because zoos simply do not wants them and do not have room for them... well, nothing would happen because PETAphiles don't give a sh!@ about facts.  

Farmed animals do not endanger the wild population. They are not taking animals wanted by zoos or wild cat preserves (which some states like Ohio have decided to shut down.) 

Guess what-- that resulted in even more dead cats than this restaurant  Where was the outrage over shutting down private wildlife preserves and banning the private ownership of exotics?  What about all those animals killed because of your stupid law?  What outrage?  Oh, that's right... there was none.  Every single animal that the zoos could not take (which was most of them) was executed.  Thanks to your "animal welfare!"   But hey... at least that meat was thrown away and not used in any way. 

Fascists and hypocrites. "We love animals-- that's why we're going to harm people!"  Stick to your goddamn tofu and semen and stop trying to lord over others.   

Unless you are a strict vegetarian you have no right at all to tell other people what meats are "wrong" to eat. You eat chicken, one of the filthiest goddamn animals on the planet.  What makes some animals so much more important than others that you're willing to kill some by the millions but others are "too cute" or "too important?" 

Simple... like your religion you made it up.  You have no reasoning, no basis whatsoever. You have no right to impose your will on others, and surely not with violence.  

Gabriela Valdez Soria
Gabriela Valdez Soria

not to try something new and different means we must kill animals, they also can cause extinction or ecosystem change.

Juvy Love Laguipo Lacre
Juvy Love Laguipo Lacre

WHAT ON EARTH IS HAPPENING TO US PEOPLE..!! EATING LION MEAT..!!  ugh..!! that's more abusive..!! and so gross..!! 


-_-

Hugo Brand
Hugo Brand

Ah, what won't some people do to be decadent, provocative and make money.

If it weren't illegal, I'm sure cannibalism would be on the menu too. 

John Boyd
John Boyd

The species that humans breed, be they animal or vegetable, as food sources, thrive. As a cat lover, I could never eat feline, but being a source of protein could have positive species survival benefits. Let us not exalt squeamishness to the status of righteousness.

Lulani van der Merwe
Lulani van der Merwe

Ok, I must admit it is pretty gross and a bad idea to eat a lion (or any other carnivore that isn't a fish).  I mean I am from South Africa and can tell you people shouldn't be eating lions! 

Benito Franco
Benito Franco

I was quite alarmed to read about the researcher who died of "primary pneumatic plague." Are there any statistics on the incidence and morbidity of flat tires among either African lions or Arizona cougars?

Pedro Holkan
Pedro Holkan

$10 to 15??? gadzooks, Id rather spend $1 for a fairly safe beef burger at Mcdonalds, knowing I could eat 10 to 15 more times for the same price some poor sap is paying for one burger made from a meat of unknown quality, that may well make him sick. plus not upsetting those who object to me eating animals who wouldn't hesitate to eat us. It's a nobrainer. give me more cow.

Pedro Holkan
Pedro Holkan

sorry guys tried to edit out my typos, but got tired of deleting and redoing my post only to see more typos. I think dispite them,  my meaning comes through. I type too fast for my own good and my keyboard cant spell.

Pedro Holkan
Pedro Holkan

the option of consuming humans has never been removed from the lions choices. They can and do cosume humans, they just dont have the frontal lobe capacity the opposable thumbs or the desire  to make us into fancy dishes. they just tear people apart and eat them, with no need for debate. But should we eat them also? Id say it's a good point that they are also preditors like us and eat almost every animal of opportunity, they are likely to be full of pathogens, that make them a poor choice for us to eat, just as the sight of human blood sends some onto a panic for fear of catching a disease the bleeder might carry, consuming other preditors  from africa puts us at risk of catching unknown diseases even more than dealing with human blood that stands only a small percentage of a chance of containing serious diseases. what if the lion has been exposed to eboli, or some other horrible disease? Is knowing what an endangered specis tasts like worth the risk?

Stacy La Mascus
Stacy La Mascus

There's no reason to turn venomous rage on anyone and divert the focus of the issue towards spelling. Hateful, condescending speech hurled at others takes us in a futile direction as a species (one that already has struggles with valuing the diversity of life ). Christian, through your tirade you yourself had a  homophone slip-up you might want to notice...

I liked the point made about the dangers of consuming meat from carnivores as I personally have an aversion from the idea along the same lines. 

Truly, the explosion of the human population over our planet and the resultant supply and demand of it has created a very imbalanced skew to populations. Comparing lions for meat to cattle for meat shows a lack of grasp on the ecological web and the idea that apex predators are intended to cull grazers, not themselves be consumed at rapid rates. Morality aside,  the numbers simply do not add up to sustain this trade. Unfortunately, where there is demand in affluence, the suppliers (likely in comparable poverty in this case) cannot, in their own minds, afford to pass this up. 

I wonder that Christian possibly brings up a good point without following through on it: if sectors of a society are consumer-driven and always grasping at the next "exotic" item to beef up social status or try to fill themselves with satisfaction, and if they are simultaneously scientifically illiterate (growing trend?) then is it actually surprising that this seems like a good idea to them? So maybe education, instead of regulation, ought to be the goal... 

That said, I want to see the day where people's choices don't have the rights to eclipse the lives of other beings on this planet. Obviously, we are a long way off, but I would hope that legislators can uphold healthy ecological values until education can reverse the atrocities of ignorance and gluttony.

A. Person
A. Person

You both are idiots. 

bottot totty: Think about lions eating "exotic" human races, like food. Such things like "Negro Nachos," or "Caucasian Candy." How about "Oriental Oreos?"

Maria Groschup-Black: Did you ever read that National Geographic article about reviving dinosaurs now that we can, and should we?

The reason someone thought of making a "Lion Burger" is because of people like you who are too ignorant to see that it is wrong (bottot totty), and people who are two dumb to understand that you can't revive extinct animal species (Maria Groschup-Black). 

Also, Maria Groschup-Black: 

You wrote "I am thoroughly disgusted at such wonton disregard for endangered and threatened species. Face it folks, once they are gone -they're gone forever."

Wonton is a type of Chinese dumpling. This is why I say you are an ignorant idiot. Read some books.

Maria Groschup-Black
Maria Groschup-Black

I am thoroughly disgusted at such wonton disregard for endangered and threatened species. Face it folks, once they are gone -they're gone forever.

Shivam Sahdev
Shivam Sahdev

@Jalyn Smith they r wild animal & we r humans, so u telling humans to turn wild & leave no difference in between...

Is it...?


Giang Tien Kinh
Giang Tien Kinh

@Roswitha Bwanga  You know, you're being really foolish to try to justify taking a completely sentient animal's life. Cows do feel pain, you know. "So when we kill them, it is totally different than killing lions for food!" No, not really. You can't justify it, no matter what you say.

But, I digress.

It's true we shouldn't kill any lions or top predators. Not just because it's ethically and morally wrong, it's also dangerous. So, even though some people may not care about the moral or ethical part of it, the health concerns do pose a significant problem. Therefore, any person or persons, who eat this meat of this wretched practice, is obviously a pighead.

Lisa Wallace
Lisa Wallace

@Gendo Ikari What do you base you comment on that farmed animals do not endanger wild populations?  Can you say lack of genetic diversity, just to name one of the results of breeding in captivity, so if the wild population ever did go extinct, there would not be enough genetic diversity or the lack of any adults that ever lived in the wild, making reintroduction difficult if not impossible.  The fact that you call the facility in Ohio that prompted the banning of exotic ownership a private wildlife preserve is moronic.  The animals in Ohio were killed because they were running loose in a populated area.  Yes, other animals rescued from these holes are sometimes euthanized because there is nowhere to put them, but some would consider death better than the cruelties they would suffer over their very short lifetime.  If humans were not so arrogant as to think they have some God-given right to force these animals into captivity, we would not have these problems, would we?

Giang Tien Kinh
Giang Tien Kinh

@Gendo Ikari  

No one said that some were more important. Rather, some are in greater need than others.

Frankly, I'd suggest you keep your trap shut and stop insulting random people, although you're fighting a losing fight, dearie.

What religion? I'm not aware that Buddhism supported this or whatever...

That's very bias and invalid. I suppose you just don't like people who actually care for animals and who have a heart...

Roswitha Bwanga
Roswitha Bwanga

@Gendo Ikari Well what makes the difference is that lions are predators. You don't see cows running around eating other animals. Cows are prey, they eat the grass we eat them...understand? Lions are not meant to be eaten, lions are the eaters! Cows are just as important as lions, just in a different way. You get it!?

Oh and one more thing...do not bring in religion. This is a scientific website for the discussion of natural phenomenon, flora, fauna and etc. so don't stoop as low as that to poke fun at some one else's religion!

You're the scum.

Lisa Wallace
Lisa Wallace

@Gendo Ikari Can you say millions of cattle compared to a few thousand big cats?  Until you develop some semblance of intelligence, do us all a favor and sew your lips shut.

Lisa Wallace
Lisa Wallace

@Gendo Ikari Again, please get your facts straight before you run your mouth.  Your tirade is a perfect example of your stupidity.  I hope you will do us all a favor and refrain from breeding.  There are enough poster children for birth control on this planet without you adding more.

matt king
matt king

@John Boyd  thank you. someone that understands. we must respect all if we are to be respected.

Hugo Brand
Hugo Brand

@John Boyd -- I don't see squeamishness exalted to the status of righteousness. I do, however, see the same old tired argument of which animals are acceptable for consumption and which are not being played out; the same old tired hypocrisy of it's fine to eat a cow but don't dare eat a dog, a tiger, a snake or any such animal that I didn't grow up eating.

It's a self-righteous argument and that is where, through blinkered vision, it invalidates itself.

Though not endangered, lions are a vulnerable species and that alone should be enough to consider eating them abominable. But then, I'm accused of being a hippy liberal vegetarian at the best of times so, naturally, I consider slaughtering any animals in the name of "protein" (because, of course, our diet as a species lacks it so)  abominable.

And unless you expect us to breed and eat every vulnerable and endangered animal on the list so that their species may "thrive", I suggest the basic alternative: leave them alone. 


Giang Tien Kinh
Giang Tien Kinh

@bottot totty  

... I hope you are trolling, becuase if you're not...

You have serious mental issues, and a possibly subconscious death wish. You'd need some mental help.

Kevin Remisoski
Kevin Remisoski

@Giang Tien Kinh Lastly, do you shed tears for the mosquito you smashed, the spider you swatted or the ant that you stepped on?  Everything on this planet has a right to exist.  I argue that we should protect the lion because it is endangered, but even that argument has its flaws because what right do we have to be the caretakers of this planet when we are endangering ourselves?  Back to the point, it is not about what you kill for food so much as whether or not you respect where your food came from.  If you gorge yourself with lettuce without one thought for the life that was taken, then you are a pighead.

Kevin Remisoski
Kevin Remisoski

@Giang Tien Kinh - There are no moral questions about killing an animal for food.  Given the right circumstances we would kill each other for food.  What the hell would you eat if you didn't have to kill something?  Are you trying to say it's okay to butcher plants because they're not sentient?  Killing is killing.

Giang Tien Kinh
Giang Tien Kinh

@Roswitha Bwanga  

As much as I agree with you, your ideals about how predators ought to not be eaten, it happens all the time. I mean, we're TECHNICALLY the top predator. Doesn't  stop us from getting eaten by others. 

Frankly, your idea that only prey animals should be eaten is harebrained. We eat fish, salmon and tuna. But they eat other organisms too... 

But I understand what you are trying to convey, at least.

matt king
matt king

@Lisa Wallace @Gendo Ikari  to lisa Wallace with no life that you find the need to answer every comment because you have nothing better to do GO FIND A MAN OR WOMEN OR GOAT OR WHATEVER. CAUSE HONEY YOU GOT SOME MAJOR PROBLEMS.

Lisa Wallace
Lisa Wallace

@Hugo Brand @John Boyd  You are correct that there is hypocrisy in how we view what is acceptable to eat and what is not.  However, what most people are missing is the role that animals play in the ecosystem.  Domestic animals are not keystone or umbrella species, like the majority of large predators and other wildlife species, so to treat them under the same criteria as domestic animals is not logical.  Wildlife belongs in the wild, not on our dinner plates, particularly since, like many have posted, enough domestic animals suffer and die to serve that purpose.

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