Wild about danger

Wild about danger

A brave animal expert set out to track down man-eaters and other dangerous wild beasts

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Dave Salmoni with Robbie the tiger
Dave Salmoni with Robbie the tiger
Photo: Discovery Channel
You'll have heard it often enough: "It's more afraid of you than you are of it." They mean a wild animal.

Yet after watching Discovery Channel's new mini-series World's Deadliest Towns, you'll begin to doubt the truth of that statement.

The show features three stories in which humans become prey to animal aggression. It sure makes you feel relieved that you are nowhere near such crazed beasts: namely, tigers, elephants and hippos.

Wild animals can turn pretty nasty indeed, as Canadian zoologist and animal behaviour expert Dave Salmoni can tell you.

For the show, he set out to investigate three notorious cases of wild beasts turning deadly.

In each hour-long episode, Salmoni and his crew land in a destination known for a deadly conflict between animals and humans. Some villagers have been left dead - some have even been eaten.

In India, some tigers have developed a taste for humans.

"It's been happening for 200 years. Mothers teach their cubs to go to the village for food," Salmoni told Young Post during his promotional visit to Hong Kong on World Animal Day on Tuesday.

Yet the animal expert stresses that lions in Africa and tigers in India generally turn man-eaters only because of destructive human activities.

Once they find themselves driven into an ecological corner, the predators may begin hunting humans as prey just to survive.

"India is deforesting quickly, which means tigers have no animals to eat," Salmoni says. "So the tigers are going into the village and they're eating a cow or a goat. And if they eat those, then why not a person?"

According to Salmoni, even some elephants - which usually eat plants - have become man-eaters. In one incident, villagers found human remains in a dead elephant's stomach.

"The elephant [episode] is so crazy because you have them knocking down houses to kill people," Salmoni says.

"One was killing people and eating them. They're vegetarians. Why was that happening?"

Salmoni has had his own share of close calls. In 1999, at the Toronto zoo where he was working at the time, a lion suddenly turned on him.

"Bongo and I were buddies," he recalls. "I'd spent the past year with him, 16 hours a day, every day. But Bongo [got angry] over something and tried to rip my throat out."

Salmoni shoved his forearm into the lion's mouth to stop him from going at his throat. "Luckily I didn't get killed," he says, "but I was left with some wounds."

He needed extensive surgery on his arm. The incident also rattled his nerves. He was afraid he might never be able to go near big cats again. Then he found the courage to get back into the cage.

Salmoni says there is little an unarmed person can do when attacked by a big cat. Your only hope is that the predator doesn't see you as dinner.

"Find that Zen moment and just lie there and go, 'Oh, this is neat', [hoping] the lion will just leave you alone," he says, half-joking.

Yet despite their ferocity, the animal expert has a soft spot for big cats.

"I've swum with squids because at one time I was interested in them," he explains. "I have no interest in doing it again. I've swum outside of a cage with great white sharks. Love them, think they're awesome but probably won't do that again. But I'll be walking next to a lion sometime soon. And I'll probably hang out with tigers soon, too.

"Big cats is where I started and where, I think, I'll end."

World's Deadliest Towns airs on Tuesdays at 9pm on Discovery Channel from next week

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