An Arizona restaurant is taking heat after advertising “lion burgers” in honor of the World Cup’s African location. No, not just a plain ‘ol hamburger named a lion burger. A real lion burger. Made with lion meat…

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A small Arizona restaurant found itself at the center of a nationwide backlash that included a bomb threat after it announced plans to offer lion burgers this week as part of a World Cup promotion. The story started when Cameron Selogie, owner of Il Vinaio restaurant in Mesa, Ariz., bought about 10 pounds of so-called African lion meat, planning to mix it with ground beef to make burgers honoring the FIFA World Cup’s South African location. _Selogie sent an e-mail newsletter to his restaurant’s patrons advertising the special. That newsletter — which was the sole publicity Selogie had planned — exploded into a media blitz when one of the e-mail recipients turned out to be an animal activist. She spread word to a local TV station, and the news has since circled the globe, even garnering a brief write-up in the online version of London’s Daily Telegraph. Lion burgers are an attention-grabbing idea, but it raises the question: How, exactly, does an Arizona restaurant manage to get its hands on African lion meat?

Welcome to the mysterious world of back-alley exotic meat purveyance. Selogie said he bought the meat through a Phoenix distributor, Gourmet Imports-Wild Game — a one-man operation owned by Rick Worrilow. Selogie says he did his research, and was told that the meat came from a free-range farm in Illinois that is regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture. Meanwhile, Worrilow, who essentially serves as a middleman between farms, meat processors and restaurants, also said the meat came from a completely legal plant in Illinois. And even though he didn’t know the name of that plant, Worrilow said he was confident that the meat was inspected by federal regulators. So where’s this supposed African lion farm in Illinois? Well, here’s one clue: When the meat arrived at Il Vinaio on Tuesday evening, Selogie said it came in packaging with the name “Czimer’s Game & Sea Foods.” Czimer isn’t a free-range farm. It’s a butcher shop located just outside of Chicago in Homer Glen, Ill.
So is it even legal to possess or eat lion meat? As it turns out… _

Yes, according to the FDA’s communications team. The African lion isn’t currently a federally protected endangered species and it qualifies as a game meat, FDA spokesman Michael Herndon said in an e-mail. While the African lion is not considered endangered by U.S. regulators, it is classified as “threatened” by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, an international protection agreement._

So given the chance, would you eat a lion burger from what is (or was) essentially a tame, domesticated lion from the exotic pet trade?