Dave Salmoni, Husband of ‘Vacation House Rules’ Star Debra Salmoni, Is a Lion Attack Survivor

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Aug. 21 2021, Published 3:17 p.m. ET

Fans of HGTV have gotten to know interior designer Debra Salmoni on the TV show Vacation House Rules, but unless you follow Debra on Instagram, you might be surprised to learn her husband is a TV star, too.

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Dave Salmoni, whom Debra married in 2015, is a Canadian animal trainer and entertainer whose hosting credits include the animal-themed TV documentaries Living With Tigers, Rogue Nature, After the Attack, Into the Pride. And as he has told TV viewers, he’s had some close calls with lions in the wild and in captivity.

Long before he was a TV star with a reported $2 million net worth, Dave was mauled by a lion on stage at a Canadian zoo.

Dave Salmoni
Source: Getty Images

Dave Salmoni in 2010

Dave almost didn’t get the chance to become a TV star with an estimated net worth of $2 million! In 1999, while he was working as a lion tamer at the Bowmanville Zoo in Ontario, Canada, Dave was attacked by a lion named Bongo during an afternoon show, with the cat clamping down on his forearm.

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“With my attack, I was a trained professional, so I was getting attacked by an animal that I always knew could attack me but didn’t think it would. I thought he loved me, I loved him,” Dave told National Post in 2010. “The basics of it were he was being possessive of an article in the show that we’re doing, and soon as a lion’s possessive, they want to kill everyone around them, and I was that person.”

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Dave said he tried to “work it out” with Bongo, but the lion went for his throat. “So I gave him my forearm instead, and we continued on arguing and fighting. I mean, there definitely was a point in the fight where I went from, ‘I know what’s happening, I’ve got control of the situation,’ to, ‘I don’t have control, I think I’m gonna die.’ I definitely remember it being a moment my life where I’ve felt what I would consider to be real fear.”

Dave was in “the most life-threatening danger you can imagine” when a lion charged at him in Namibia.

Dave had another brush with death while he was in Namibia trying to rehabilitate a pride of lions that had turned aggressive toward humans. As documented in a 2009 Primetime clip, a lion charged at Dave, and Dave had to wave his arms and yell at the cat to get it to back off.

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“[In] that moment of time, I was in the most life-threatening danger you can imagine,” Dave later told AfterElton.com . “The lion could have possibly wanted to attack me, and I had to show him he wasn’t allowed. My aggression was based on what I thought I needed to do to stay alive.”

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He went on: “It certainly was the first project I was ever on where I almost gave up. I did almost call my boss and say, ‘I may have to quit. I may be killed out here. I need you guys to know you might not get a television show out of this because I’m not willing to die over this stuff.’”

But Dave knew that if he gave up, the lions would be killed. “So they let me try one more thing and in the end, three years later, there is a happy and healthy population of lions there because of the work that we did there,” he said. “Then, yes, of course I would go back. I’d be a little smarter, a little older and hopefully avoid that charge before it happens.”

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