Would you eat the King of Beasts?!? I hope not!!!



Lion’s on the menu thanks to shady sellers

[Make me sick!!! -I just report it…I DO NOT support it!!!]

It sounded like a sick joke: A Tucson, Ariz., restaurant announced it was adding “farm raised, African lion” tacos to its menu.Many Americans who heard about Boca Tacos’ seeming publicity stunt earlier this year were surprised to learn the big cats can be legally butchered and sold like hamburger in the United States.But they can, and around the country businesses are offering lion meat as a novelty — many of them doing so without knowing that supply chain is murky and unregulated, and at least one of the major suppliers has been tied to criminal trafficking of endangered species like tigers and leopards.

In the case of Boca Tacos, the experiment with lion meat was called off before a single meal was served: Animal advocates circulated the owner’s business and personal addresses online, leading to a series of death threats. Recent attempts by another Arizona restaurant, as well as one in Philadelphia and one outside Tampa, met similar fates.

But despite the controversy, one gourmet grocer in Cambridge, Mass., sells farm-raised African lion in addition to other strange game. Its cooler of curiosities boasts everything from alligator to zebra.

During a recent visit by The Daily, a butcher at Savenor’s demonstrated how to properly cook a lion steak. When he dropped the meat in the pan, it clenched up like a fist. The butcher explained that “predators are pretty much solid muscle. When you add heat to muscle, it automatically constricts.” The trick? “Hold it down.”

“I think the best thing to know about lion is that it’s really not a bad taste — it’s halfway between a dolphin and a bald eagle,” store manager Juliana Lyman joked.

It actually tastes like pork. Except it’s chewy, and costs $60 a pound at Savenor’s.

African lions are not endangered, so the meat is legal to sell, but deeper investigation reveals the market for the king of the beasts is part of a mostly unregulated and shady exotic animal trade that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says is a multibillion-dollar industry.

Savenor’s wouldn’t disclose its source, except to say that the meat comes from Illinois. Another lion meat retailer, ExoticMeatMarket.com, offers a similar account: “Our African lions are raised in the state of Illinois.”

There is reason to worry. The Illinois man who supplies nearly all the lion meat in the United States has been busted in the past for passing off meat from endangered animals, such as Bengal tigers, as meat from legal species, including African lions.

Richard Czimer owns and operates Czimer’s Game and Seafood in Homer Glenn, about an hour from Chicago. Last year, he told a reporter that his cuts of big cat come from a man who runs a skinning operation and delivers him the leftover meat.

When asked where the pelt trader gets his lions, Czimer said, “I wouldn’t have any idea. … He has his sources, and I do not infringe on his business, just as he does not infringe on mine.”

Czimer declined to talk to The Daily, but a special agent at the Fish and Wildlife Service, based in Springfield, Ill., said he knows Czimer and where his lions come from.

“There’s no such thing as lion farms,” said Tim Santel. More often it’s “a woman living paycheck to paycheck in a trailer home who keeps her lion in a chain-link fence.”

“I don’t think the majority of people understand how widespread this is in the United States,” added Santel. “You could have these dangerous animals living right next door to you and not even know it.”

Santel says there are a variety of ways to start a private collection, including auctions, catalogs, and online retailers.

“I could go out and in a couple of hours buy a lion for a few hundred dollars,” said Santel, adding that even a federally protected tiger or leopard sells for as little as $1,000.

Santel first learned about Czimer’s exotic game through a six-year undercover sting. The investigation, known as Operation Snow Plow, started when Santel received a tip that a man who owned a plowing business in the Chicago area was buying endangered Bengal tigers and selling them for their parts.

Santel recalled one of the stakeouts:  “One particular day in March 1998, there were eight tigers killed at one time,” he said. “They were acquired from an animal dealer, brought to an isolated warehouse in suburban Chicago, where two individuals with handguns shot all eight tigers.”

What they figured out, said Santel, is that a live $1,000 big cat is worth less than the sum of its parts.

At ExoticMeatMarket.com, a lion tenderloin retails for $1,400.

“They’re selling these hides for up to $10,000 apiece,” Santel said. “The gallbladders are probably fetching them a few hundred bucks. You know, the teeth and claws might give them some more. The skulls are being sold for whatever.”

And then the extracted corpses went to Czimer, who haggled the men down to $3 a pound for around 200 pounds of meat per big cat. It’s illegal to sell endangered meat, but Czimer got around this by labeling tiger meat as lion.

Operation Snow Plow led to one of the biggest busts of the black market animal trade in American history. In 2003, Czimer pleaded guilty to selling endangered tigers, leopards, and even liger. In front of a judge, he confessed, “I knew exactly what some of them were.”

Czimer served six months in federal prison and paid $116,000 to the Save the Tiger Fund. A month after his conviction, the Animal Liberation Front set fire to his store. But now it’s apparently back to business as usual at Czimer’s exotic game market and distribution.

Based on a genetic analysis earlier this year of a smorgasbord of Czimer’s meats, the Food and Drug Administration accused Czimer of selling endangered grizzly bear meat and labeling it as black bear.

Scott J. Mcintire, the FDA’s Chicago district director, declined to say whether the investigation had turned up any lions among Czimer’s meats.

Ike Sriskandarajah is a reporter for Public Radio International’s “Living on Earth.”



~ by topcatsroar on September 18, 2012.

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