Living With Lions: Trainer Tries to Habituate Namibia's Wildest Cats

In an act of bravery, or bravado, Salmoni is confident he can walk with this pride and eventually habituate them to the Erindi staff and tourists. For the six-month project, a team of Animal Planet cameramen is Salmoni's sole link to humanity, and to safety. But as he addresses his crews, it's clear that Salmoni imagines a different worst case scenario than they do.

"If I'm underneath the cat, get the jeep to drive over the top of me to push the cat off," Salmoni says. "Warren, make sure I'm breathing. Make sure your plan doesn't preclude the cameraman's. I don't want to wake up in the hospital and find out we didn't get the shot."

But that's not what worries Warren Pearson, his medic.

"If a lion's running at him and hits him hard, that's literally the worst case scenario -- massive blood loss," Pearson says.

In the event of an attack, Salmoni considers his cane to be his most effective weapon: an unassuming wooden stick that could save his life as an instrument of first defense. He practices with the cane to strike at a moving rock target suspended from a branch. A fill-in for what could be a charging lion's jaws.

"I hit it when it's in the upswing, like the mouth would be," Salmoni says. "To get it in, they've got a gag reflex in the back of their throat, so if I start pushing it as hard as I can, he has two choices: He can try to keep coming, he'll pass out, and if he doesn't, he'll gag and run away."

Veteran cameraman Russell Bergh is already laying odds on how long Salmoni can last in a head-on assault.

"In my experience of lions, my money would definitely be on the lion," Bergh says.

After each day's taping, Salmoni is left alone with a radio and his four-wheeler.

Tracking the Pride's Dominant Male, a 550-Pound Lion Named Brutus

"At nighttime, your territory goes completely away," Salmoni says. "You can actually see it happening. When you're sitting here and the sun's going down and darkness starts coming over, it's almost, you can feel it in your body. Your body just goes on high alert."

Darkness brings terror.

Outside, the only tent in 275 square miles of African wilderness, a lion is investigating a strange campsite.

"Brutus is in camp right now. I don't know how much sleep I'll be getting tonight," Salmoni says.

A zippered tent and a can of pepper spray are Salmoni's only protection from Brutus. At 550 pounds, he is the dominant male in the pride. And, now, Brutus knows where Salmoni sleeps.

As Africa awakens at first light, Salmoni finds Brutus's track marks in a nearby path.

"If a lion is charging, that's five strides," Salmoni says. "Five strides take less than five seconds."

But, as the days wear on, it's becoming clear that approaching Brutus' pride on foot could be as elusive as his paw prints now fading in the sand.

Tracking lions in the dense scrub is difficult. Thorny branches don't allow Salmoni to get close enough to walk near the pride. And, in Africa, even the trees have teeth.

"Ow, are you kidding me? I hope I get charged right now," Salmoni says as he gets caught up in the thorny undergrowth. "That will serve me absolutely well."

The lions finally reveal themselves a few weeks later, their intention deadly in the grassy savannah. It is a stunning warning not to trespass when Brutus and the pride's dominant lioness surround Salmoni on his four-wheeler.

"I'm really stuck in a crap spot now," he says. "Now, I've got to start showing some aggression. This is way too close."

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