We know the lion as the King of the Jungle. A pride of lionesses and their cubs are the wild epitome of a village raising each other’s young. Lions are beautiful, fierce, protective and playful.
But are they dinner?
One restaurant in Albany, New York thinks so. Dave’s Pizza and Burger serves a burger made from lion flesh. The dish cost $75 (until today, when it was marked down: the menu says “NOW $20″), perhaps reflecting the short supply of lions.
Lion populations are so threatened that Born Free, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), and other organizations are working to add them to the Endangered Species list, saying they are in “imminent danger of extinction.” Born Free USA’s website reports that “fewer than 40,000 [lions] remain in the wild.”
HSUS President and CEO Wayne Pacelle wrote at Care2 that the African lion population has been steadily declining for years, with “[s]ome estimates put[ting] total lion numbers throughout Africa at just 23,000.”
There are many reasons for the decline. One is loss of habitat; another is the shrinking of prey species populations. Sport hunting is another serious problem, and guess who is the biggest importer of lion “trophies”/body parts?
But wait, there’s more. The lion meat on the menu at Dave’s may well have come from captive-bred lions, some of whom are destined for zoos, circuses, canned hunting operations, or private ownership. Eating individuals from this population raises a whole other mess of problems.
Lions don’t fare well under American laws designed for cows. The federal Humane Methods of Slaughter Act does not cover lions. This is the law that requires slaughterers to render animals unconscious or insensible to pain before killing them. With this law out of the picture, those who butcher lions for meat are free to do it while the lions are fully conscious.
There is good reason to believe that they aren’t gentle about the slaughter: Americans who keep exotic animals have a dismal record of caring for their charges. Born Free USA reports that its past investigations “into the private ownership of exotic animals, roadside zoos and traveling shows have revealed appalling conditions.” Care2 has described the heartbreaking lives of exotic animals exhibited in roadside zoos, including Ben the Bear and Tony the Tiger.
If the animals’ plight isn’t enough to dampen people’s appetite for a lion burger, maybe this will have them putting down their forks: “lion meat production and sale largely falls through the regulatory cracks with neither the FDA…nor USDA taking full responsibility for the process from start to finish,” Born Free has found.
That poses some risks to the would-be gourmand. Born Free’s investigation revealed that:
Lion meat sold as a byproduct of the trade in lions raised for public display or “hobby” may not be raised with adequate attention to required antibiotic or other drug withdrawal times. The FDA does not regularly or proactively conduct residue testing in exotic meat. In addition, there are no regulations that prevent feeding lions “specified risk material” (SRM) — brains, eyes, spinal cord and other organs — that are prohibited in feed for other animals raised for human consumption due to the risk of transmissible spongiform encephalopathy caused by “prions” — abnormal proteins that eat holes in the brains of infected humans and animals.
And yes, “transmissible spongiform encephalopathy” does include mad cow disease.
This is not the first time that Care2 has taken on an American restaurant serving lion meat. In Kansas a restaurant planned to serve it as part of a tasting menu, but thanks in part to a Care2 Causes petition, the eatery removed that dish from the menu.
Let’s do it again. Please sign the petition below to ask Dave’s Pizza and Burger to take lion meat off its menu.