What 11 Popular Zoo Animals Taste Like (According to People Who Tried Them)

Some people have the palate for some very exotic dishes.
Not only adorable, but a lean source of protein.
Not only adorable, but a lean source of protein. / Anadolu/GettyImages

Have you ever visited the local zoo and found yourself wondering how a juicy hunk of boiled penguin breast might taste? Just about every creature under the sun has been sautéed, deep-fried, and/or sprinkled over a pizza at some point in human history.

(DISCLAIMER: A few of the species on this list are either threatened or endangered. In addition to being ethically dubious, their consumption is illegal in many countries. This article is designed to help satisfy your curiosity and not stoke your appetite.)

1. Elephant

Elephant feet: part of a complete breakfast! While exploring Mozambique in 1864, Scottish missionary David Livingstone was served this pedal delicacy, cooked in the “native fashion,” one morning. Finding it delicious, the traveler wrote, “It is a whitish mass, slightly gelatinous, and sweet like marrow.” Best of all, the meal came with a healthy side of beer.

2. Giraffe

“Properly prepared, and cooked rare,” pens celebrity chef Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall, “giraffe’s meat steak can be better than steak or venison. The meat has a natural sweetness that may not be to everybody’s taste, but is certainly to mine when grilled over an open fire.”

3. Penguin

A particularly unflattering description of penguin meat composed by a Belgian seaman in 1898 suggests that it won’t be replacing chicken anytime soon: “If it’s possible to imagine a piece of beef, odiferous cod fish, and a canvas-backed duck roasted together in a pot, with blood and cod-liver oil for sauce, the illustration would be complete.”

4. Galapagos Tortoise

These hardy reptiles were a dietary staple to traveling sailors throughout the 19th century. Though many compared the delicacy to fine veal, a young Charles Darwin was decidedly less enthusiastic. “[The] breastplate roasted … is very good,” his journal grants, “and the young tortoises make excellent soup, but otherwise the meat to my taste is indifferent.” 

5. Lion

Apparently, the king of the beasts makes for one tasty taco. A Tampa Bay restaurant began selling these $35 entrees last year before removing them from the menu a few months later. "[It's] surprisingly tasty," said one customer of this exotic grub. "The taste is kind like venison, and the texture is kind of like gator."

6. Python

Looking to capitalize on Florida’s decades-long Burmese python invasion, Evan’s Neighborhood Pizza of Fort Myers now offers “Everglades Pizza” topped with slivers of these 20-foot snakes. “It tastes like chicken but chewier,” said one customer.

7. Camel

It’s the perfect treat for hump day! Eating camel is a fairly common practice in much of the world, especially the Middle East. Chef Anissa Halou claims it reminds him of “a cross between beef and lamb.” Camel steaks are becoming an increasingly popular alternative to conventional red meat in much of Europe and even parts of the U.S.

8. Gorilla

Gorillas are widely hunted down and devoured in parts of Africa, and the simians’ flesh is routinely sold at nearby markets as “bush meat." Flavor-wise, many have cited their cuts as rich, smoky, and veal-like. Speaking of primates, if you’d like to find out what humans taste like without wandering into Hannibal Lecter territory, Vsauce recently posted an excellent video on the subject.

9. Hippopotamus

In the words of author and hunter Peter Hathaway Capstick, “It is my personal opinion that hippo meat is one of the finest of game foods … The taste is mild, less than lamb and more than beef, slightly more marbled than usual venison. It tastes exactly like, well, hippo.”

10. Peacock

If you’re searching for an exotic alternative to traditional Thanksgiving fare, look no further. The eponymous host of the popular YouTube series “Dave’s Exotic Foods” stated in a special holiday episode that brined peacock sports a light and very turkey-like flavor. However, if certain medieval critics are to be believed, stocking up on some gas-ex first might be a necessary precaution

11. Sloth

“It was really, really tough and there really wasn’t much meat,” says American composer Aaron Paul Low, who helped catch and eat an unfortunate sloth on a trip to Peru in 2012. Tired of subsisting on nothing but indigenous fruits, Low claims his party “begrudgingly ate such natural wonders as armadillo, turtle, crocodile, toucan,” and many others. Sloth meat, he says, isn't for the weak-stomached. “[It was] one of the few absolutely disgusting animals we ate.” These adorable tree-climbers are illegal to hunt, but a few luckless specimens still get munched on every year.

BONUS: Panda

Archaeological evidence suggests that prehistoric humans once hunted giant pandas with spears some 10,000 years ago. Since then, the practice has fallen out of favor and no record detailing their flavor is known to exist. However, in 1928, Teddy Roosevelt’s sons Kermit and Theodore IV hunted and ate one while visiting China, but neglected to document its taste.