The Real Dave Salmoni
Where are Dave Salmoni’s Ambassador Animals?
Over the past 10+ years, if you tuned into Jimmy Kimmel Live!, the Tyra Banks Show, Harry, The Today Show, or the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and you might have seen Animal Planet’s very own Dave Salmoni.
Dave Salmoni, who hails from Toronto Canada and cut his teeth as an animal trainer at the famously notorious Bowmanville Zoo, would commonly bring ambassador animals like big cat cubs onto America’s most popular morning and late-night shows. But the big question is:
What Happened to Dave Salmoni’s Ambassadors?
This is the question that filmmaker Mike Webber and retired law enforcement officer Tim Harrison and team seek to answer in the acclaimed film The Conservation Game. As seen in the film, Dave Salmoni is asked this question directly, but refuses to give an answer. But why?
In the hidden-camera clip, Dave Salmoni claims that his ambassador cats are at an “accredited place”, but will not disclose where. When pressed further, he then admits the accreditation is “not like a zoo accreditation” but instead
“Accredited in our circumstance.”
In Dave Salmoni’s own words, he admits that “I and my providers and Animal Planet and anytime we partner anything that is ABC, has to meet their criteria, right? And then we at Discover and Animal Planet…
“We have our own set of criteria.”
One wonders exactly what that criteria is, given that Salmoni presumably gets his ambassador cubs from the unaccredited entertainment company Wild World of Animals, whose license to work with animals in the state of New York was revoked after illegally using big cats, including Dave Salmoni’s ambassador cub Wyatt, for private birthday party hands-on interactions and selfies.
What is Dave Salmoni Hiding?
In one of the most striking examples of deceit shown in the film, Dave Salmoni is questioned by Fran Drescher, an outspoken member of the Humane Society of the United States, about Dave’s ambassador cub and its mother.
Salmoni takes the same cub on ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live!, where he allows Paris Hilton to handle the cub and explains that …. Unfortunately, things are not as they seem.
According to the film, the leopard cub that Dave Salmoni hands to Paris Hilton and Fran Drescher never ended up at an accredited zoo, but instead was “dumped” at a backyard petting zoo in Pennsylvania called Critter Country.
From Good Morning America to High School Mascot
On another occasion, Dave Salmoni appeared on multiple television shows (The Today Show, People Magazine, Animal Planet’s Tiger Bites) with his ambassador tiger cub named “Olive”. So, what happened to Dave’s ambassador cat?
In one of the most explosive scenes in The Conservation Game, Olive was later found being used as a high school mascot for the notoriously controversial Massillon Football tigers. To quote Tim Harrison in the film, “This is the two faces of conservation”.
Dave Salmoni’s early days on Canadian Broadcast Company (CBC)
Early in his television career, Dave Salmoni appeared on the Canadian Broadcast Company’s talk show The Hour with George **Stroumboulopoulos. On the show, Salmoni encourages the tiger to climb on top of the host.
But where did Jonas come from and where did he end up after the show? These videos posted on YouTube may provide some insight.
The videos were posted by someone claiming to be from the Bowmanville Zoo with a tiger cub named “Jonas”. Keep in mind, Bowmanville is where Dave Salmoni trained and also near Toronto, where Salmoni lives and the show is taped.
“That’s what Dave says, ‘Control the Head.’”
In the second clip, while pushing and slapping around the confused cub, the man explains –
“THAT’S WHAT DAVE SAYS, ‘CONTROL THE HEAD.’”
Could he be referring to Dave Salmoni?
Is this the same “Jonas” on CBC?
Is this Dave Salmoni’s ambassador cat being mistreated in someone’s basement?
We don’t know for sure, but the reference to “Dave” and the unusual tiger name of “Jonas” raise these questions.
Years later, to the Canadian Broadcast Companies great credit, the CBC aired The Conservation Game on prime-time television throughout all of Canada, raising eyebrows about the true nature of Dave Salmoni’s “conservation” work.
The CBC pulled no punches about Toronto’s hometown hero, questioning his work and posting damning clips of Salmoni from the film for all to see.
Dave Salmoni’s Close Ties to the Bowmanville Zoo
According to Animal Planet and multiple sources, Dave Salmoni hails from the infamous Bowmanville Zoo in Canada, where he trained with dangerous big cats.
Salmoni even promotes this notorious zoo on his social media:
“You should all go to the Bowmanville zoo to see their show. It’s awesome!”
But what’s not so awesome, is the undercover video revealed by PETA, of a typical training session at Salmoni’s much beloved Zoo.
Salmoni’s association with and promotion of the Bowmanville Zoo raise questions about how he treats his animals. But the open question raised in The Conservation Game that he has not addressed is the apparent discrepancy between what he claims happens to his ambassador animals during his TV appearances and what actually happens to them once he is done using them in a way that we view as exploitation for his fame and profit.
From The Tonight Show to…
Dave Salmoni with tiger cub “Mason” on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
⚠️ What happened to Salmoni’s tiger cub Mason?
From Live with Kelly and Michael to…
Dave Salmoni on Live with Kelly and Michael with lion cub Tyson.
⚠️ What happened to Salmoni’s lion cub Tyson?
The “Real” Dave Salmoni ?
Dave Salmoni’s Instagram feed, “RealDaveSalmoni”, features him holding a tiger cub on Jimmy Kimmel Live! Knowing what we do now, the question is – Where did the tiger cub in the photo end up?
If asked on social media where his ambassador cats are, how will Dave respond?
Clips Courtesy of The Conservation Game.
More on Dave Salmoni
Jimmy Kimmel Bans Dave Salmoni!
After receiving multiple letters from PETA urging Jimmy Kimmel Live! to end its cruel wild-animal segments, the show scrapped reported plans for exhibitor Dave Salmoni to appear on the show. More at https://www.peta.org/media/news-releases/victory-jimmy-kimmel-nixes-wild-animal-trainer-from-line-up/
2018 Investigative Report on Dave Salmoni
In my opinion, Dave Salmoni is not a conservationist, behaviorist, or “animal expert,” but a big cat trainer from Ontario’s notoriously abusive Bowmanville Zoo, a private menagerie and breeding/training facility for performing exotic animals used in film, TV, and circuses. The cubs Salmoni brings to TV studios appear to come from Michael Hackenberger, Salmoni’s mentor and the disgraced owner of the Bowmanville Zoo, who was prosecuted for animal cruelty after investigators filmed him brutally whipping a young tiger 19 times during a single “training session.” “I like hitting him in the face,” Hackenberger says in the clip. Just a few months after that video was released, another clip emerged showing Hackenberger speaking almost gleefully about beating his animals. “I can carve my initials in their side,” he brags of his skills at whipping tigers. Later, speaking about a group of wolves, he shows off the wooden stick he uses to beat them. “You smack ’em, and they generally fold like a house of cards. And that’s the beauty.” A Bowmanville Zoo administrator later acknowledges Hackenberger’s violent training methods, stating, “You throw them down on the ground so they know who’s boss. That’s basically Michael’s way of working all animals.”
In a 2009 interview, Dave Salmoni reverently refers to Hackenberger as “one of the best cat trainers in the world—he put me in situations to teach me how to fend off an attack; how to gag a lion with a wooden crook and stop them coming forward, or if they are on top of you, the little skin fold in their lip where you can put your finger, and stop them from biting you. Over the years now, I’ve probably had a few hundred fights with captive lions, or good play wrestling, where you practice that gag, or block their teeth and learn the techniques.”
Leading big cat conservationists affiliated with legitimate organizations like Panthera and the Wildlife Conservation Society warn that Salmoni’s sensationalized, entertainment-focused “education” is impeding genuine conservation efforts and sending the wrong message to viewers. I believe that by bringing self-proclaimed “experts” like Salmoni to cuddle endangered wildlife on-air, media outlets are actually doing a great disservice to wildlife. Instead of fostering education, respect for animals, or concern for wild populations, this is the message viewers are leaving with:
In 2009, Salmoni filmed a show called “Into The Pride,” which in my view featured him deliberately harassing wild lions in a Namibian national park in an attempt to “tame” them. My understanding is that Salmoni somehow believed that habituating the lions to people would make them less likely to come into conflict with humans, and told an interviewer that “those lions are unfazed by human contact, and that’s the way it needs to be.” Legitimate lion conservationists, who know that habituating wildlife to people is not a good thing, were furious. Dr. Luke Hunter, Executive Director of Panthera (the most respected big cat conservation group in the world) wrote an article titled “Tormenting Lions for TV” where he chastised Salmoni for being a “self-absorbed ignoramus” and the program for being “self-indulgent baloney” and “made-for-TV nonsense [which] obscures the authentic and far more meaningful conservation efforts undertaken by thousands of passionate, anonymous professionals.”
Wildlife documentary producer Chris Palmer, the director of Center for Environmental Filmmaking at American University, concurred; calling Into The Pride “an example of a bad wildlife film” and explaining that Salmoni’s harassment of the lions “makes great television, but lousy conservation. The lions are being gratuitously provoked for the sake of ratings and in the process becoming frightened and needlessly stressed.”
Salmoni seems to have also proven that he is equally ignorant about animal welfare. Remember that Miami high school which caused national outrage by using a clearly agitated, caged tiger as a prop at their prom? Salmoni defended the exploitation by claiming that being put on display at the prom was “enrichment” for the tiger — and was promptly criticized by a former zoo veterinary technician, who explained that “this was not enrichment, but a senseless act of cruelty and exploitation. You are clearly in the wrong line of work.”
Salmoni started working as a big cat trainer at the Bowmanville Zoo in 1998, where he apparently “really bought into” Hackenberg’s animal training. In 2000, with two mixed-subspecies tiger cubs from the Bowmanville Zoo in tow, he moved to South Africa to join a tiger farmer named John Varty for a “tiger rewilding project” that other conservation experts view as unscientific. The project was filmed and aired on the Discovery Channel as a documentary called “Living With Tigers.” The project involved training captive-bred tiger cubs to “regain their predatory instincts.” Once the tigers proved that they could sustain themselves in the wild, they would be released into the wilderness of South Africa — where tigers are not native — to fend for themselves. Nobody with even a shred of conservation knowledge would consider this appropriate, and real conservationists have noted that since the tigers are not genetically pure, the project had zero conservation value. Animals 24-7 says of the documentary:
“The former Bowmanville Zoo trainer Salmoni and Dave Varty were repeatedly shown cuddling and playing with the tigers in a manner opposite to standard wildlife rehabilitation technique, in which contact with humans is minimized and discouraged. They towed dead antelopes behind a truck for the tigers to pounce, conditioning the tigers to appear at the sound of vehicles and perhaps, to stalk tourist jeeps. They kept a brother and sister tiger together until the female entered her first heat. They taught the tigers to hunt as a pack, which no tigers do in the wild. They repeatedly took meat from the tigers to “show them who is boss,” feeding them later in camp. This taught the tigers to associate human habitation with food. Eventually the Varty brothers proclaimed success in teaching the tigers to hunt, after the tigers killed seven springbok who had been released almost into their mouths.”
John Seidensticker, chairman of the Save The Tiger Fund Council, and senior scientist at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, stated that
“The conservation community is pretty much opposed to this. It’s diverting funds that could be used otherwise. “Our definition of conservation is securing a place for wild tigers where they live, not a place in Texas or South Africa. There are a lot of people who spent their lives, sometimes at great risk of themselves, to work on (tiger conservation). It is going to be a story, this whole thing, about how to not do conservation.”
After working with Varty’s bogus “conservation” scheme, Salmoni returned to North America, where he continued to cultivate fame as a network TV “animal expert” while published material indicates he was maintaining an active relationship with the Bowmanville Zoo as a promoter, trainer and presenter of circus-style exotic animal acts.
If these media outlets are serious about saving tigers, they’ll stop promoting irresponsible, self-proclaimed “animal experts” like Salmoni and instead listen to the real conservationists who say that cuddling wildlife on TV is a con, not conservation.
Dave Salmoni Self Described Lion Man Harassing and Endangers Lions
By Dr. Luke Hunter, Executive Director of Panthera
This week, Animal Planet kicked off the latest offering from likable Steve Irwin-wannabe Dave Salmoni. “Into The Pride” follows Salmoni as he attempts to prove that humans can live in harmony with wild lions. To do so, Dave scoots around the Namibian bush on a quad-bike looking for a close encounter with the big cats. You might think a 4-wheeler doesn’t offer much protection but, provided they’re not hunted or persecuted, lions quickly get used to vehicles. A vehicle acts just like a mobile hide which is why millions of people a year are able to enjoy extraordinary experiences watching wild lions from the safety of their safari jeeps and mini-vans in Africa’s great game parks. It even works with ATVs which disrupt the human silhouette sufficiently that Salmoni is on fairly safe ground — so long as he keeps his distance and stays on the bike. The problem is, that’s not daring enough for Dangerous Dave. When he finds the lions, he dismounts and, armed only with his shepherd’s cane, he walks up to them.
Understandably and predictably, the lions get pissed off. In one sequence from the series, Salmoni pulls this stunt with a lioness called Cleo, resting with the pride’s cubs and a gemsbok kill. Now, if someone asked me, how would I go out of my way to really aggravate a lioness, I’d tell them “threaten her when she is protecting her cubs. Or a carcass. Or, if you were an utterly self-absorbed ignoramus, both.” Cleo does what a million years of evolution have engineered her to do when faced with potential danger to her cubs — she charges. Dave shrieks a bit, high-tails it back to the ATV and scolds Cleo for her “inappropriate behavior.” Of course, it’s actually wholly appropriate — any wild lioness so gratuitously provoked is apt to do the same. Once he’s back on the bike, Cleo relaxes a little and backs off. Predictably, that only encourages this bushveld buffoon to try his luck again, and, again, Cleo comes like a tawny missile. She is upset, frightened and angry — all thanks to Salmoni who is determined to show us that, as he recently toldPeople magazine, he was ‘tougher than they were’.
What self-indulgent baloney. Salmoni repeatedly tells us his antics are necessary because these are aggressive problem lions that must be habituated for eco-tourism or they will be destroyed. That would be reasonable if he stayed with his vehicle, just as tourists, researchers, scientists, guides and park rangers do every day across Africa. None of these folks wander up to lions hoping to get cozy (well, occasionally they do but the ending usually isn’t pretty). If Salmoni was honest and respectful about habituating lions for tourists, he’d get them used to vehicles — it’s safer for both human and lion, and it wouldn’t provoke the same distressed fury from Cleo. Ironically, most of the first episode is taken up with encounter after encounter between Dave and his film crew watching lions from their Land Rovers. The tactic yields beautiful vision of lions being lions — Salmoni’s team cops a few baleful looks and one frustrated rev from Cleo when Dave drives too close, but nothing serious. But of course that doesn’t make good enough television so Salmoni makes sure he says ‘these lions hate vehicles’ a lot even after we’ve just watched shots of the cats doing little more than keeping a reasonable distance. And let’s not forget, Dave reassures us this is all in the name of “conservation” so it’s fine to crank Cleo’s stress off the charts.
And to what end? Even if Cleo eventually tires of charging this clown, all he’s achieved is to put her life more at risk. Lions co-evolved with our kind in Africa and generally do their best to avoid us. When wild lions see a person coming, they know enough to either disappear or give fair warning. Walking in the African bush, I’ve been the recipient of their low warning rumble a few times, like the sound of a tractor-trailer changing down gears. Lions tell people when it’s a good time to change direction because they want to avoid conflict. Episode 1 shows a textbook case from one of the males, Brutus, on Dave’s inaugural walk-in (niftily re-interpreted by our hero as the first step in Brutus’ ‘training’. Sheesh). Salmoni repeatedly forces these conflicts onto Cleo and her family in his puerile quest to show us who’s boss. If he succeeds, Cleo is actually a great deal more dangerous. Conditioned out of her natural, sensible instinct to keep people at a safe distance, her normal flight circle becomes perilously small. Someone — perhaps a lion-loving tourist who has seen the show — only need blunder into her and, faced with a perceived hazard at too-close-for-comfort range, she attacks. If it happens, the predictable outcome is that Cleo gets a bullet. Good work Dave.
The greatest shame of this made-for-TV nonsense is that it obscures the authentic and far more meaningful conservation efforts undertaken by thousands of passionate, anonymous professionals working in Africa today. They will never get the recognition that Salmoni craves and they certainly will never see anything like his pay check. But they are the reason that lions and the wild places they need will persist. Salmoni isn’t.
About the Author…
Dr. Luke Hunter is the Executive Director at Panthera, the leading global nonprofit organization devoted to saving the world’s wild cat species from the diminutive black-footed cat of southern Africa to the massive tiger of Asia. Hunter has conducted fieldwork on large cats in Africa since 1992. His current projects include assessing the effects of sport hunting and illegal persecution on leopards outside protected areas, developing a conservation strategy for lions across their African range, and the first intensive study of Persian leopards and the last surviving Asiatic cheetahs in Iran.
Follow Panthera on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Pantheracats