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

For Salmoni, every day is a walk along an ever-shifting line between communication and confrontation.

"Lions always charge in a certain, specific way," Salmoni says. "They drop their head down, open their mouth for some audio, come up, and try and get their hands around my head. There isn't ... you get one shot."

Or, if you're really lucky, two shots.

Salmoni: 'These Are the Craziest Animals I Have Worked With'

Ten years ago, Salmoni sensed the vice-like hold of death when he was mauled on stage by a captive male lion. One he had loved and trusted.

"That cat taught me everything you need to know about wild lions," he says. "How amazing it can be to have a relationship with a lion. And he also showed me, in a split second, you screw up once, I'll kill you. ... A lion's got you, in his mouth, and he's tearing you to bits."

It's a lesson Salmoni has brought with him to the Erindi project. Even near his campsite, bones from the lions' recent kills bleach in the sun. The remains of death are littered everywhere in the bush, a reminder of what Salmoni is risking by being here.

But his attempts to create a relationship with Brutus and the pride have so far yielded only charges, and the project's habituation deadline is nearing.

"These are the craziest animals I've ever worked with," Salmoni says. "I thought I tried everything. I was doubting myself. I thought, maybe I can't. Maybe these lions just don't like people."

The lions do not. But they do like eland -- a large kind of antelope that inhabit the savannahs of eastern and southern Africa. And when the lions have a windfall hunt, Salmoni sees the huge eland carcass as an opportunity.

"I can see from here all the lions' claws went into the rump," Salmoni says. "There are some deep, deep ones. This one was obviously running away, and the girls grabbed on to the bum. The perfect stranglehold."

And as Salmoni becomes desperate to get closer to Brutus, he makes an approach so outrageous it can only end in his deliverance, or death.

Salmoni tries seating himself at the lions' dinner table.

To find out how Brutus reacts, watch Tuesday at 10 p.m., as "Primetime's" "The Outsiders" returns in its season debut.

And to see more of Salmoni's project, watch the Animal Planet series "Into the Pride," airing Aug. 13 at 8 p.m.

Links:

Dave Salmoni

Lion Guardians

Erindi Private Game Reserve, Namibia

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