Mexico City’s Mercado San Juan is one of the capital’s oldest markets. It’s renowned for its unique produce. Many merchants here specialize in exotic meats, offering crocodile, iguana and even lion to their customers. It’s a trade that has flourished here since the earthquake of 1985, when the center of the capital was destroyed, and people were afraid to come to the old building located to the south of the famous Zocalo square.
Ingenious merchants thought of alternatives to get the customers back in, and specializing in exotic meats that couldn’t be found elsewhere proved a winner. Yet much of the strange meat’s success has surged from behind closed freezer doors.
“We do not display the lion meat because we are not allowed to sell it,” Pepe Pacha, an exotic meat merchant who declined to say much more said. “It’s an animal that is in danger of extinction. It’s illegal to sell.”
Sales of these exotic meats are legal if sourced from a licensed farm – but the vendors we spoke with didn’t want to talk about where their meat comes from. Any unlicensed hunting and slaughter of certain protected species is a felony, carrying with it lengthy prison sentences. It seems the authorities in the market prefer to turn a blind eye to the practice.
“If a lion cub is born in the local zoo, perhaps it ends up getting eaten here,” Jose Luis Mesa, one of the market’s administrators said. “we don’t ask the sellers where the meat comes from, because we have no reason to get involved. Questions over how and where it comes from are not for us to know.”
Despite repeated requests from CGTN, Mexico’s environmental protection and enforcement agencies, PROFEPA and SERMANAT, declined to comment about the meat that’s sold here.
“All of these markets specializing in exotic animals operate behind closed doors, and with complete impunity,” Leonora Esquivel, one of Mexico’s leading animal rights activists, and the founder of Anima Naturalis said. Her organization succeeded two years ago in banning animals from Mexican circuses.
“We have tried many times to denounce these organizations, and we have never had a favorable response from the government.”
One problem Leonora blames for this is that thrill-seeking visitors continue to come to the market, in search of exotic meats. And the vendors at the market said that as long as they see a demand for lion burgers, they will continue to supply it.