Matt Wright first discovered his unique talent - wrestling crocodiles - after setting a trap and removing one from a drill rig in Arnhem Land, Australia, more than three decades ago. Since then his career has catapulted from protecting the cattle of local ranchers to teaching the world there is a better way to protect the environment.
Wright has brought his expertise in capturing creatures from the outback swamps to streaming giant Netflix with his latest adventure series, Wild Croc Territory. It is the latest wildlife installment following his hit National Geographic series Outback Wrangler. Here, Wright takes viewers - as well as his wife and young son - on a wildlife journey through some of the most crocodile-infested areas in Australia's rthern Territory.
The success of his shows has transformed the 43-year-old from hunter to conservationist and educator as through his work he has shown that by finding a safer and more humane way to deal with such dangerous creatures, he can send out a global message about conservation the environment. He also finds the time to dispel some long-held crocodile myths that even he grew up with.
"Everyone thinks that saltwater crocodiles don't exist in freshwater," says Wright. “And that was a big educational curve for me to try and teach people in the Australian outback. In every lagoon and waterway in northern Australia there could potentially be one of the largest saltwater crocodiles you will ever encounter.”
When these prehistoric predators get too close to ranchers and their livestock, he and his team receive a call to come and keep the area safe by removing the crocodile from the area. With preparation and a full range of equipment, the team is usually able to move the crocodiles from the farms and ranches to a more croc-friendly environment. Wright says he's showing we can coexist with dangerous wildlife instead of destroying it.
"The way the world wants everyone to start caring about the environment and the animals that live in it now is to get me involved and make a difference," he says. "Otherwise, if they don't, the next solution is just shooting, which nobody really wants to see these days.
As part of Wright's "winning strategy," the Netflix star must always be prepared with a plan -- and a backup plan -- when things literally get out of hand. Also with success, Matt Wright explains the need to use success for good - while enjoying the moment. But most importantly, knowing what you're good at and continuing to improve - that can mean the difference between success and trickery.
"I think as a kid growing up on wildlife adventures, you can't beat hands-on experience," says Wright. "As I got older I did a few jobs there catching some big crocodiles and I managed that without losing a limb. And we continue to do so. And hopefully we won't lose any limbs."
Courtesy of Netflix
Always keep a game plan
There are a few things to consider when preparing to catch a crocodile. It's about knowing your surroundings and knowing what you're getting yourself into – the weather, the situation, even what size crocodile you're dealing with. From there, it's about what gear we need and what size trap we should use. Then, logistically, how are we going to move the crocodile once we've caught it? How many guys does it take to hold it back? So there's a lot behind it, but once we've made a plan we can usually execute it without too much trouble.
Well, it's pretty much like a template: we hear about a crocodile causing a problem. We're going to go out there and target the right crocodile because there are a lot of crocodiles out there and occasionally we catch the wrong one from time to time.
The first thing we're going to do is set our motion sensor cameras to see which crocodiles are there and then pinpoint the one we want to get. Then we make sure we confirm to the landowner that this is the crocodile they want to capture.
Then we go inside and set the trap according to the size of the crocodile. If it's a smaller croc - around the 10 to 13 foot mark, we set a small trap. If it's a little over that - like 15 to 20 feet - then we go in and set up a pretty big trap and use it like big beef slabs. It's quite a big operation.
Matt Wright is ready to deviate from the script
Depending on the catch, a plan can go awry or wrong, but then there are also machine failures. You have to consider boats, trailers, vehicles. We might pull a few followers out there if we catch a catch. The car can break down, the buggy can get stuck. There are so many variables in any project.
We're still learning all the time. I have been catching crocodiles for over 20 years. On Wild Croc Territory, someone teaches you how [Matt’s brother in law and rookie croc catcher] Finny, who just came on board, that you take a lot of things for granted - you know a lot about catching crocodiles, then see how Finn reacts and work through various problems, and realize there's still a lot to learn.
We have moments every now and then. One that was quite interesting was at night when we caught this big crocodile and we knew we were in a bad place. But he was coming towards us, so we decided not to try to catch him because he was too big for us. If you catch a crocodile in shallow water, it's a disaster - you want it in deep water if you're catching at night. He passed us, hit the boat and pulled the boat in half and threw us in the water. So we had to get out in pitch black... but he was on his way out and punched us. He didn't come to get us or anything - he was trying to get out of the way as hard as we were trying to get out of the water.
Matt Wright excels at his skills
I keep getting messages like, "I want to work with you and do this." You can't take on these types of people because you know it takes years of training to understand how not to hurt yourself.
You have to be handy, you have to understand wildlife, you have to understand how to use rope, read and restrain animals, so there's a lot involved in catching crocodiles. And this skillset doesn't come overnight.
It's all hands-on - it's not your daily gym workout. You are really dealing with 1,000 kilos of dead weight – or not always with dead weight. It can swing around and hit you with its tail.
So you need to have the physical strength – upper body strength, lower body leg strength. It's just part of the territory. The more you're out there in the swamps, the more you've been grilling in the heat in the grass. It's hot, muggy, everything is full of leeches and at the same time we're trying to pull a 20-foot crocodile out of the swamp.
It has to be both mental and physical. There's a lot of physical strain behind this - a big crocodile really takes a lot off your shoulders during this time because you're using everything you have to tame this animal. And if you're out all night and catch a few of them, then you'll wake up pretty sore the next morning from dragging them into the boat, and you'll also need to balance yourself so you don't fall into the water. It's a different kind of training, but hands-on experience is the best way.
Spread the word with your platform
Where we are today as an environment, I think the path we are taking as a broader human race is becoming so destructive. We've consumed so much in such a short amount of time that we have more to worry about than just the crocodiles. It's the environment around the world. It is the animals that live in the environment, as well as the rainforest and the oceans. As humans, we are meant to be the guardians that help take care of this planet - and we're not doing a very good job at it. So with Wild Croc Territory on Netflix, it shows that it's kind of over [my son] Banjo's eyes – raising him, educating him about wildlife, respecting the environment and what lives in it, and doing what we can to take care of what we left behind.
Success is better with family
Sometimes we go from sunrise to sunset and then beyond that and go late into the night but we make it. Don't get too tired - if you're tired and exhausted, you're going to make mistakes.
For leisure, it is at home with the family. It hangs with banjo and [wife] Kai. That's what I really like to do, I really do these bondages when I spend them with family.
I think I've worked hard over the last 20 to 30 years to get to where we run like 12 companies at a time. We do a lot in [Australia] Tourism area where we take guests to surgeries. Around 150 people come by every day and experience crocodiles first-hand. We will go in blocks to catch and remove a big pot. It's important to take the family to enjoy the adventure and get out too. We don't have to rush these things too much anymore. We go out and enjoy the surroundings and take our time.
Follow Matt Wright on Instagram @mattwright.