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Unbelievably, certain people in the United States have a taste for lion meat, and an Illinois lawmaker wants to do his part to keep this exotic trend from getting out of hand. With help from Born Free USA, a non-government organization that strives to protect African lions from going extinct, Rep Luis Arroyo has drafted a bill that would make it illegal to possess, breed, or sell lions for meat. This move comes in response to the growing availability of lion meat in restaurants across the country. But foodies and chefs who serve lion claim there is nothing wrong with the practice.
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Curtis Calleo from The Gastronauts, who has served a lion dinner in New York, told NPR that lion meat is sourced from circuses and zoos in the United States that then send aging animals to slaughterhouses for processing. Calleo added, however, that predators aren’t very tasty. The meat is not all that “exciting,” he said. But that hasn’t stopped a certain breed of culinary enthusiasts from experimenting.
Animal activists are concerned that America’s palette for lion meat could eventually lead to poaching in Africa, where 50 percent of lions have disappeared over the last two decades. Currently listed as vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), it is not yet illegal to trade in lion parts. However, the US Fish and Wildlife Service is currently considering a plan to add the species to their endangered list.
Meanwhile, Born Free’s Executive Vice President Adam Roberts discovered that Illinois is at the center of America’s supply of lion meat. NPR quotes Gastronomica, which reported in 2012 that U.S. retailers that sell lion meat, including ExoticMeatMarket.com, claim to purchase their meat from a USDA-inspected lion farm outside Chicago. By arresting the supply chain in his own state, Arroyo hopes to kill the demand. Sadly, many conservationists believe that an outright ban on any illicit trade – whether its rhino horn, elephant ivory or meat of endangered species – actually has the opposite outcome.