Although he would not give the names of the two locations where he believes lion meat is being sold, Chicago Rep. Luis Arroyo (D) has introduced legislation that would ban the slaughter of the jungle king and sale of lion meat in Illinois.
“Those are zoo animals. “Then you talk about eating elephants, eating all kinds of zoo animals. There’s other meats we can eat besides the lions,” he told the Chicago Sun Times.
The proposal left some political observers baffled as to how the issue surfaced at a time when the Illinois legislature is involved in the debate over gun control, is facing a $96.7 billion deficit in funding the state’s public pension system, is trying to resolve the state's overall budget problems.
Other lawmakers apparently have not found lion steaks to be a culinary issue in their districts, but Rep. Arroyo insists slaughtering the animal for food is inhumane and needs to be outlawed.
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His House bill would establish penalties of up to one year in jail and a fine of $25,000 for offenders, Fox News reports, and is being reviewed by the House Agriculture and Conservation Committee.
"Legislators have bigger issues to tame than the commercialization of lion meat," Kristina Rasmussen, vice president of the Illinois Policy Institute, told reporters.
"Most people would never even conceive of eating lion meat," she said. "... If this is a problem — and I'm not convinced that it is — surely it can be solved by civil action and community consensus and open debate. Do we have to rush in with a law, especially when we have so many other problems right in front of our face?"
Critics also questioned the timing of bringing this before the Legislature. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is currently considering protecting African lions under the Endangered Species Act. That would be an expanded approach aimed at stopping the trade in hunting trophies and lion skins. But it would also prevent the sale of lion meat, which is now legal.
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The only publicized account of lion meat being generated in Chicago was in 2010, when a Phoenix, Arizona, restaurant owner offered lion burgers on his menu in celebration of the World Cup that summer in South Africa. Animal rights activists picketed the restaurant and some in South Africa expressed shock as well, because lion meat is shunned in that country, the Sun Times reports.
That meat was reportedly purchased from a Chicago-area company called Czimer's Game & Seafood in Homer Glen, Ill. According to its website, Czimer’s Game & Seafood in Homer Glen sold anything from ostrich to black bear as of 2011 and at one time, listed $24.95 per pound African lion tenderloins.
Owner Richard Czimer was sentenced to six months in prison in 2003 for involvement in an animal trafficking ring that illegally purchased and sold endangered tiger and leopard meat.