There aren’t many people who could say they have lassoed, wrestled, captured, and then relocated a five-metre long, one-ton saltwater crocodile. But Matt Wright is not many people.
Wright doesn’t have a job that you would see on any employment website: he is a real-life Crocodile Dundee. Where most of us are happy to make a living by sitting sedately in an office, Wright’s work is rather more dangerous and testosterone-fuelled. Everything he does could be summed up by one phrase: “Please don’t try this at home”.
A committed conservationist and card-carrying adrenaline junkie, this rugged Australian snares gigantic crocodiles and moves them to places which are safer for both humans and the animals themselves.
Footage of Wright dragging a crocodile the size of a small truck out of the muddy depths with a single rope is quite simply hair-raising – inspiring thoughts of ‘rather you than me’. It goes without saying, it is one of the most perilous jobs on the planet. Wright with his family during the filming of ‘Wild Croc Territory’ (Photo: Supplied)
Wright gets up close and personal with the crocs in the Northern Territory of Australia. His mission, which is the subject of a new Netflix series titled, Wild Croc Territory, is to re-home some of the 150,000 saltwater crocodiles that reside there.
Sitting across the table from me in the rather different environment of a west London meeting room in Hammersmith, Wright – known as the ‘outback wrangler’ – appears laid-back about his work.
He talks me through the most serious injury he has sustained. “I thought I’d take [the crocodile] back to where we were staying. Rather than drag him, I let him walk.
“I just gave his tail a little push with my foot. He reacted quite severely and snapped my ankle with one strike of his tail. The power crocs have is quite extraordinary. He instantly dropped me on my arse, and I knew my ankle was broken straightaway.”
The very next day, the injury got worse. Wright went to check a trap he had set, and there was another 18-foot crocodile sitting in it. “I thought, ‘I can’t relocate this guy – he’s too old. If I try to move him, he’ll die’. So as I swung the gates open to let him out, he gave me a big hit with his tail – on exactly the same spot where the other one had the day before. I thought, ‘That’s it. We’re done!’”
Did Wright then, as most people would have done, rush to hospital to get his broken bone fixed? No. “I just strapped her up and hobbled around for a bit”. The only drawback to this ill-conceived plan was that Wright was about to fly to Africa to make a programme about rhinos with former cricketer, Kevin Pietersen. Upon meeting – and seeing Wright’s foot – Pietersen told him: “You’re supposed to be the wildlife warrior!”All of Wright’s work in the Northern Territory has been driven by a strong conservationist urge (Photo: Supplied)
This calmness in the face of adversity clearly comes with the terrain. In the first episode of Wild Croc Territory, Jock Purcell, who has worked with Wright as a helicopter pilot for the last seven years, remarks: “Mixing helicopters and crocodiles makes it pretty dangerous.” As the camera zooms in on his hand, Purcell continues: “I’ve already lost a couple of fingers, but with the work that we do, it’s not your fingers you’re worried about – it’s more your arms and legs.”
The focus of the episode is on Wright’s effort to catch a one-ton crocodile nicknamed Beef Cheeks. The animal is wreaking havoc on a farmer’s cattle and urgently needs to be relocated to a place where he will do less damage.
Once Wright has caught this enormous creature in a trap, quite unbelievably, he pokes a stick into the crocodile’s mouth to test how aggressive he is. At that moment, he says: “If this croc decides to come at us, we’re in a lot of trouble!”
Wright then wrestles with the giant reptile while attempting to close his mouth with gaffer tape, he tells the others holding the crocodile in place: “Don’t let go now, or I’ll lose an arm.” The crocodile is then put on a boat and moved across the river. When the boat’s engine cuts out at precisely the wrong moment, the adventurer narrowly avoids the croc’s dreaded “death roll”.
Even then, the danger is not over, though, as Wright has to transport the crocodile from the water onto a truck. “This is a precarious stage of the operation. One wrong move and Beef Cheeks could easily smash you to pieces.” Indeed.
Wright has spent his life engaging in activities that can only be described as daredevil. As a 10-year-old boy, a huge python bit him in the face, leaving its teeth in his cheeks as a souvenir. Later, he earned a living leaping off horses to bring down wild bulls – as you do.
An experienced helicopter pilot, Wright had spells tracking caribou, buffalo, bison and polar bears, too. He says, “I was also in the army for a bit, but that wasn’t really for me. Discipline wasn’t my strongest point.” Clearly, he can take orders from crocodiles, but not people.
All of Wright’s work in the Northern Territory has been driven by a strong conservationist urge. The father of a young son, Banjo, he has genuine fears for the future of our planet. “There’s an important education element to what I do. It all revolves around the wildlife and the environment they have. We humans have spent so much time consuming and developing our society and trying to breed more and more people.
“We’ve destroyed nearly every bloody rainforest on earth. And how many species of animals have suffered and become extinct in the last 100 years? It’s phenomenal how quickly we’ve destroyed everything. Looking after our natural habitat should really be our number one priority, but we take money and greed over that.”
Just before we part, I ask Wright what I, a lifelong Londoner who gets a nosebleed outside the M25, should do if I ever find myself in the Outback, where every creature appears dangerous. “If you do end up in Australia,” he replies with a smile, “just don’t go mucking around with the wildlife. Leave that to me.”