We talk to the star of the National Geographic Channel series, Outback Wrangler, about life in the Northern Territory wrestling crocodiles.
By Jessica Wilkinson
He’s been called the Bear Grylls of Australia and the next Steve Irwin, but Matt Wright is actually just unapologetically himself – a ‘true-blue’ Aussie bloke who spends his days wading into crocodile nests, hanging out of helicopters, mustering wild brumbies, and deep-diving into the heart of the Northern Territory. For Wright, this is life – it just happens to be an incredibly fascinating one.
We talk to Wright about saltwater crocodiles, the dangerous mission of collecting croc eggs, and how you can experience his Outback Wrangler life.
Matt Wright on Instagram
Q&A with Matt Wright, Outback Wrangler
I’ll be honest, I find crocodiles pretty terrifying. Do you feel that they’re a misunderstood animal?
"Well, the reality is that the saltwater crocodile is a dangerous animal – it is an opportunistic apex predator that can kill people. However, Salties play a critical role in the health of many aquatic environments and are one of the few remaining links to our prehistoric past. I am fascinated by them and am passionate about educating people about their role and importance because people will never care for or protect anything they don’t understand."
What’s involved in collecting eggs from crocodile nests?
“Dangling from a chopper, you get slung into a swamp with some pretty rancid conditions - 90 percent humidity, big spiders and leeches crawling all over you. You enter with a pole in one hand to fend off any crocs and a crate in your other hand to collect the eggs. Once you’ve established your position you begin to mark and load the eggs meticulously. You have to make sure the eggs stay upright – if you turn an egg on its axis the yoke will crush the embryo within so they have to be packed in the crate correctly. Once you’ve cleared the nest you get slung out and taken to the next – it’s tiresome work. We tend to collect 40 to 60 eggs per nest and do about 20 to 30 nests per day with two choppers and two collectors.”
Collecting eggs from saltwater crocs sounds rather daring. What inspired you to go into this line of work?
“I have a natural born instinct and attraction to wildlife and love working and connecting with reptiles in particular. I've always done jobs outdoors or alongside animals. Being a helicopter pilot I found myself landing a job collecting eggs. It can get a bit hairy and it’s not a job for everyone for obvious reasons, I think there’s about 15 of us in Australia who do it. But it's important work.
In the 1970s there was an uncontrolled trade in croc skins which depleted the wild population of saltwater crocodiles to the point of almost extinction. Today, this incentive driven practice (egg collecting) has become one of the best conservation programs in the world. Salties are no longer a threatened species in the NT with over 140,000 in the wild, which is back to their original numbers. Frustratingly, there is still a lot of ignorance about egg collecting and people don’t understand it is part of a broader conservation model. But educating people about this is one of the key motivators for my National Geographic TV show Outback Wrangler."
On your TV show you also relocate crocodiles. Why do you move them?
“If a crocodile is identified as a problem, meaning it is harassing people or livestock, then this is when one of my relocations takes place. Moving problem crocodiles keeps the balance between people and crocs – a croc doesn’t get shot and a person doesn’t get eaten. I understand that unfortunately, I can’t save every croc but if there’s an opportunity where I can remove a croc before it is destroyed I try to take that option. No animal should ever get killed unnecessarily.”
Relocating crocodiles and mustering wild horses from your chopper – is this really a day in the life of Matt Wright?
“These adventures take up a large part of my life along with running a couple of adventure tourism companies in Darwin, Outback Floatplane Adventures and Wright Expeditions, which I created to bring people into my world and show them the crocs up close and personal and experience the very best of rugged Australia from the lush waterfalls, rolling plains, wild brumbies (horses), epic birdlife, unique station life and living and breathing the outback way.
You live and work in the Northern Territory, what do you love most about that part of Australia?
“I’ve lived in the Territory for 17 years and love how the NT outback enables me to connect to the land and the adventurous lifestyle it promotes. The vast landscapes give such an amazing feeling of freedom and the people are so laid back and easy going. We live in a little slice of heaven up here removed from the rat race and hustle and bustle of city life. We have incredible landscapes, waterfalls at our doorstep, smiling people, abundant fishing spots, unique wildlife, no traffic, awesome Asian fusion food, good pubs, great markets and an all-round great Aussie culture.”
Can you tell me more about your number one tour on Trip Advisor?
“Outback Floatplane Adventures, The Ultimate Tour, takes guests via a floatplane from Darwin, flying over Bynoe Harbour to Sweets Lagoon for a water landing. Guests then take a relaxing boat cruise and enjoy a cooked meal, before jumping on board an airboat to explore the monsoonal rainforest and encounter some of the Territory’s most unique birdlife and wild saltwater crocs. R44 Robinson helicopters then give guests a bird’s eye view of the landscape. Before getting back on the floatplane to Darwin, guests can cool off in a croc safe pool. It’s a good fun adventure for people wanting to see the best of the Top End.”
That sounds like a great day out. What if I wanted to stay longer in the Top End? What could I do?
A popular tour that everyone loves (whether you’re a fisherman or not!) is my Wild Australia Private Tours Heli-fishing Adventure where I fly guests out of Darwin to some of the most remote locations in the world to fish and explore. I also design one week expeditions where people can get a taste for the best bits of the Top End and Kimberley regions including fishing, animal encounters, camping, mustering - the list goes on and can be customised to whatever you want.
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