Some U.S. restaurants have began serving lion burgers–hamburgers made from the meat of the African big cat–drawing ire from critics who say it might cause a negative impact.
The meat, according to a report in The Guardian newspaper, is sourced from captive-raised lions in the United States. It reported that recently, lion meat has appeared in tacos at a Florida restaurant and in other items in California restaurants.
“We’ve been busy,” Florida’s Taco Fusion manager Bayardo Alvarez told the New York Daily News in May, adding that the lion meat tacos cost $35. “Our normal lunches were $400 to $500, and today I’ve done $1,450.”
Another manager, Brad Barnett, said that the attention hasn’t been entirely positive.
He told ABC News that “[people have been] coming into the establishment and throwing punches,” and added: “They say they are going to bomb us, burn us down, blow us up.”
Dr. Luke Hunter, president of Panthera, a conservation organization for big cats, told the Guardian that lion burgers and tacos are a small phenomenon in the U.S. but it could pose problems in the future if people develop a taste for the meat.
“There’s a much more powerful engine behind this than any gourmet concern,” he said, adding that “the general issue is that if you encourage a demand that grows and becomes fashionable, it could impact the wild populations as well.”
African lion populations been under serious duress in recent years. Hunter said that encroachment by humans has displaced 80 percent of African lions from their original habitat. The African lion population was once at 200,000 but now it has dwindled down to around 30,000 in the wild.
The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, told Fox News last month that the lion taco and burger phenomenon is problematic.
“Most lion meat served in restaurants comes from old zoo and circus lions who are shot in fenced compounds by cowards who want a trophy on the wall, so that’s what anyone who buys a lion burger is likely supporting,” PETA wrote.
It added that there are no “no inspection standards to fall back on” with the lion meat.
The Daily News reported that Taco Fusion purchased its lion meat from Exotic Meat Market, which raises lions in captivity. The company also sells beaver, iguana, and bear meat.
“It’s been this quirky situation from time to time; every six months or so you hear ‘lion meat tacos,’” Crawford Allan, director of of the TRAFFIC organization that seeks to end the trafficking of wildlife parts, told the Guardian.