Every personal publicist has horror stories, but few can claim as many indignities as Animal Planet’s Dave Salmoni. “I get bitten a lot,” he said last week after wrangling a particularly temperamental star for an afternoon at a women’s magazine. “I get pissed on a lot, I get crapped on a lot.”
Salmoni is the network’s large predator expert, and it’s his lot in life to introduce skittish carnivores to Jay Leno and Jimmy Kimmel, among others. Last Tuesday, Salmoni spent an hour introducing editorial staffers to a cougar cub (“I wore long sleeves on purpose”) who wanted nothing more than to sink his teeth into the zoologist’s hand – see pictures (your correspondent is cropped out of the picture because he looks exactly as scared as he was).
“He (the cougar, not the reporter) wants to know what he can get away with,” Salmoni explained. “The answer is pretty much anything except biting me on the face.” Hopefully, his next charges won’t bite him on the face as often: the outdoorsy animal wrangler has a show in development at Animal Planet with the working title of “Man Up,” a “machover” show in which Salmoni will teach metrofied wimps how to get in touch with their manlier sides.
Salmoni said he’d been attacked many times by his clients, notably by a lion named Bongo, who starred in 90’s Val Kilmer actioner “The Ghost and the Darkness.” “I literally thought, ‘I’m going to be one of those guys who gets killed by his lion and everyone will read the paper and go, well, yeah, what did you think would happen?'”
Like everyone who regularly works with on-air talent, Salmoni runs into a few folks who, for no reason either can explain, just don’t like him. “It’s a vulture,” Salmoni sighed. “I don’t know if he’s the only vulture they can get, or what, but his name is Benson and he hates me more than anything. I’ll take him out of the cage and there’ll be meat all around him and he’ll immediately try to bite me.”
It’s not all vulture attacks for Salmoni. He’s on Mark Burnett’s upcoming ABC show “Expedition Impossible” and there’s “Man Up” to look forward to, he hopes. But animals remain his first love, even when they’re trying to take a bite out of his chin or peeing down his shoulder. “I never wanted to do anything but this,” he said. “Some people don’t know what they want to do – I’m not one of them.”