CHICAGO — The owner of a small suburban butcher shop that once listed African lion as one of its large game meats, is calling a state legislator who wants to ban such sales "stupid."
"Who instigated him ... to do this?" Richard Czimer, owner of Czimer's Game and Seafood in Homer Glen, said of Rep. Luis Arroyo, a Chicago Democrat gunning for a lion meat ban.
"He's stupid. He's being manhandled by someone," Czimer said of Arroyo when reached by phone Monday.
Czimer said Arryo's bill is "his opinion," and the state lawmaker is "just trying to make a name for himself."
Czimer declined further comment and hung up.
The butcher shop, which also sells kangaroo and beaver, last week listed African lion ($19.95 per pound for steak) on its website, but stated it is currently "not available."
"Note: We currently have no available inventory of smoked items such as snack sticks, smoked meats, and jerkies (until we can satisfy new county regulations and requirements)," the website said.
Arroyo, who did not return requests for comment, told the Sun-Times he was given the idea to introduce the ban by "a very interesting person."
One Texas-based wildlife photographer recently set out on her own mission to decrease lion meat sales in Illinois after learning about Czimer's last August.
Keon Robertson delivered a petition to de-list lion meat, with more than 4,000 signatures, to the Homer Glen butcher shop in November, according to change.org.
"The African lion population is decreasing and it's not just occurring in Africa. In the U.S., lions are being killed so consumers can eat a lion steak or lion burger. We must ensure this beautiful species' survival," the petition read.
Arroyo told the Sun-Times he knows of two locations where he believes lion meat is sold in Illinois, but declined to name them.
Czimer's is nationally known for selling lion meat. The store was caught in the middle of a large controversy when it sold lion meat to an Arizona restaurant in 2010. And Czimer's is the only place Dave Arnold, an acclaimed New York City chef and vocal supporter of exotic meats, knows where to get lion meat.
Which is why he doesn't eat it anymore.
Arnold reviewed a lion steak ("tastes like pork") from Czimer's in 2010, but he said he'll never order from the shop again after learning about the store's "dicey" past.
Czimer spent six months in prison in 2003 for passing off federally protected tiger, mountain lion and liger flesh as lion, CNNMoney reported. He also received a letter in 2011 from the FDA warning him that his black bear meat was actually made of elk and brown bear, and that his shop was in violation of several health codes.
"The more I looked into how the system was operating, the less I wanted to be a part of it," Arnold said.
Illinois' ban would be the first of its kind, but before Arroyo's bill makes it to the governor, lions may become federally protected as an endangered species, which would forbid their slaughter entirely.
Arnold said Arroyo's bill is "misplaced legislation" because it only focuses on consumption.
"I would not have a problem with a bill saying that we as a culture don’t kill lions," Arnold said. "But to say that you can't kill it for food, but then you're allowed to kill it for a pelt?...From a logic standpoint, I don't understand that."
Arroyo told the Sun-Times that eating lion is "just inhumane" as they are "zoo animals," and "There’s other meats we can eat."
But Arnold also disagrees with what he sees as a perceived "inherent majesty of the lion."
"People are blind to the suffering of animals and eat meat in general," Arnold said. "But they somehow get all hot and bothered when it's an animal they see in a zoo, or on TV. ... I don't see how a lion is a higher being than a cow, and we eat a lot of cows."