You may, like us, think it a little odd that a man who has survived a lion attack would think it a sensible idea to go in search of more dangerous predators. However, in his new six-part show, zoologist Dave Salmoni discovers lost worlds and terrains, and uncovers nature’s most extreme beasts, and, yet again, makes it out alive. Deadly Islands (9pm, May 1 on Discovery Channel) sees him traverse beautiful scenery in the wilds of Alaska, the Falklands, Galapagos, French Polynesia and Central America and get incredible footage of deadly creatures in the wild – from vampire bats and tarantulas to hammerhead sharks.
“I was born with an interest in big cats and predators,” say Salmoni who was attacked by a 35 stone male African lion in 1999, while working as a lion trainer in Canada. “The attack was a bit of a deterrent, but also was a great lesson,” he says, “Now I know how aggressive these animals can be. It gives me a reminder to draw on, so I don’t get complacent.” An extreme way to learn perhaps, but Salmoni seems to take extreme in his stride. He’s created his new series to “show animal lovers things they’re not used to seeing”. Even if that does mean getting attacked by a silver tip shark along the way.
“On Shark Island, a silver tip shark tries to take the back of my head off,” says Salmoni, who’s saved most of the footage for the ‘making of’ the series. “I talk about it behind the scenes and ‘holy cow that was close’.”
On his travels, he also discovers killer whales, crocodiles and bears, but is not fazed by any of them. “I don’t know an animal that I’m scared off,” says the adventurer, who’s more frightened by people than he his of, say, a 10 tonne orca whale. “Animals aren’t devious,” he explains. “In their essence they are all pretty honest. If a tiger is mad at you or if an elephant get pissed, it will tell you. If your girlfriend is mad at you, you can’t promise that she is going to tell you at all.” He has a point.
“It’s that hiding your emotions, feelings and thoughts that I find difficult to work with,” continues Salmoni, “but animals are the opposite.”
In Deadly Islands, Salmoni lives alongside weird and wonderful creatures in an attempt to understand them further and find out how they’ve survived in unforgiving conditions. He explains that some of the most unassuming creatures are often the toughest in the food chain. “[On the show] you’ll see penguins getting bashed into rocks, to the point where no human would survive,” he says, “and yet these tiny little birds do it every day, twice a day.”
Meanwhile, seals can also be unsuspecting, “It would be a far cry for me to label seals as vicious,” says Salmoni, “but the big males can be aggressive and you certainly don’t want to get bitten by elephant seals. [In Deadly Islands] we also get a look at killer whales. Most people think of them like cute dolphins, but if you watch the episode Killer Whale Island you’ll know how devastating a predator they are. Literally, they are going onto an island and wiping out entire populations. They are the most capable predator in the sea. They are aggressive, they are hungry. Killer whales didn’t get their reputation for no reason.”
If viewers want to get a taste of dangerous predators in the wild, there are plenty of destination they can go to, explains Salmoni, but even he would warn against certain places. “Anywhere where there is a heavy hippo population – that’s very dangerous,” says the nature expert. And in some places in Tanzania and India, lions and tigers have developed a culture of man eating. “People are on the menu now,” says Salmoni, “in the Sundarbans, tigers have been eating people for 100 years. They’ve figured out that we’re pretty easy to kill.” Perhaps one for series two then Dave? Or perhaps not.