EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Matt Wright, A.K.A the Outback Wrangler
Got a colossal croc causing chaos in your backyard? Probably not, unless you’re living in the Australian outback. But if you were having troubles with these rambunctious reptiles, you’d want to call Matt Wright, A.K.A the Outback Wrangler.
With the help of his trap expert mates Chris ‘Willo’ Wilson and John ‘Jono’ Brown, the dashing Wright works as a croc relocator in Australia’s Northern Territory, picking up the scaly mischief makers in his helicopter, and moving them to a safe environment away from humans and livestock. For our viewing pleasure, all the action is caught on camera, to be aired every Thursday evening at 8pm on Nat Geo WILD.
I caught up with Matt Wright as he took some time away from his beloved bush to promote the new series of Outback Wrangler in the big smoke of Sydney. This is what he told me fans could expect from the second series of the show:
“We’re out catching a lot of crocodiles; some are in farms, some are in parks… and that’s because we’ve got a lot of human-crocodile conflict (HCC) up in the Northern Territory. We’re managing crocodile numbers up there, and trying to reduce the risk of people and livestock being taken. All that protects the crocs as well, because if they start eating people, then that’s not a good thing – there’d be a big public outcry that crocs need to be shot. So it’s pretty exciting this time around, with a lot of big crocs, and a lot of fun to be had, but the feature behind the whole thing is the crocs, and making sure that the locals understand the danger of the crocodiles”.
Sounds like fun! What skills does one need to become a crocodile wrangler, I wonder?
“I think it’s just something you’ve gotta grow up with. You’ve gotta be good with animals, and you’ve gotta be able to think pretty quickly on your feet. It’s something that you can’t study, and that I can’t really teach someone. I can show someone the basics and what to watch for, but you’ve gotta have a lot of common sense and you’ve gotta be quick on your feet. If you get bitten by one of these animals you lose an arm pretty quickly”, Matt tells me, shattering my hopes of dabbling in a bit of croc wrangling myself.
In light of the job’s attendant perils, I ask Matt if he’d describe himself as fearless, or whether there are things that he’s afraid of when going out into the field.
“I don’t know about fearless”, he says. “I mean you’ve always got to have a bit of fear to make sure you’ve got caution, and so you can’t be blasé about the job at hand. You’ve definitely gotta have a bit of fear in you, and the same with the boys around you. You soon watch and learn from the lads; who’s a bit gung ho, who likes the camera, and who’s actually there to do the job. It’s quite interesting! So you really want your off-siders to make sure they put the job first, and then worry about the camera side of things afterwards”.
So what was the most terrifying moment Matt and the gang had while filming the new series?
“This is not actually on the show, but I rolled the airboat into the swamp where we were going to see one of the biggest crocs, and I came hobbling around the corner and flipped that way out into the deep water, so I kind of scrambled out of that pretty quickly!” he recalls. “But there weren’t too many intense moments when we were filming. It’s more that we were doing our day to day job, like going out getting croc eggs. We try to keep it pretty safe and pretty low key”.
I ask Matt if this realism sets Outback Wrangler apart from TV’s more extreme outdoors shows, from the likes of Bear Grylls, or the late Steve Urwin.
“I guess you’ve got to appeal to that and what people want a bit, but we do our job up North and don’t try to do stuff that we’re not. We showcase our job and what we do, and that’s got choppers and airboats and crocodiles and bull catchers, and it’s all just part of the territory. I see a lot of shows that are people trying to showcase stuff that they’re not. Obviously with us we’re actually doing what we do”, he says.
I agree that the job is fascinating in its own right, without needing the element of constructed drama that people are doing elsewhere.
“That’s right”, Matt responds. “I’ve had producers up who’re trying to make drama, and I’m like ‘Mate, you don’t need to make drama. There’s always going to be that sort of shit coming on a daily basis’. We’re going to come across our own hurdles, so we don’t need to make bullshit up. Season One of Outback Wrangler tried to showcase people who are doing this for a living. I’m not an expert on everything, so I go in and help out, but there are other people who know a lot better when it comes to dealing with elephants, or breaking in horses, you know. You just work with the guys who know”.
And being one of the guys who knows crocodiles, I ask Matt what he thinks the biggest misconception about crocs is. This is what he had to say:
“It’s just like any animal; a lot of people fear them because they don’t understand them, but the more you work or the more you watch, the more you understand them. Crocodiles now aren’t endangered, they’re not on the critical list or anything. They were – we had about 4,000 crocodiles left, and now we’re up to about 130,000 crocodiles – so the conservation programme that we’ve used has worked extremely well, and now we’re at a manageable point. The crocs are well on their way. Now it’s just managing them and trying to keep them there without the public outcry coming in and saying ‘we’ve gotta start culling them’, because that defeats the whole purpose of what we’ve done. So we manage areas and try to reduce the risk of people getting eaten. If we can do that, then people are happy, and crocodiles are happy”.
Watch Matt and the team’s good work when Outback Wrangler starts Thursday December 3rd at 8pm on Nat Geo WILD.