Wrestling with crocs and fame
MATT Wright feels like he's finally stepped out of the shadows of Steve Irwin and Bear Grylls.
When the Australian helicopter pilot and croc relocator made his TV debut in 2011, he couldn't escape comparisons to Queensland's famous Crocodile Hunter and the UK's famed survival expert.
But now with a third season of his series Outback Wrangler hitting airwaves, the dangerous animal expert has well and truly established himself.
"The Steve Irwin comparisons have slowly faded away; more so the Outback Wrangler character is what's recognised now," he tells The Guide.
"People recognise me as a person, and there's not so much of being compared to your Bear Grylls and Steve Irwins. It's quite a privilege to be regarded in that same circle."
In August, Wright went viral with imagery of a monster croc catch on Facebook. Some applauded his efforts to protect both the animal and people, while others questioned why he intervened at all.
While saltwater crocodiles have been a protected species in Australia since 1974, shooting problem animals is still a common practice. One of Wright's biggest goals is to educate viewers about why such animals need to be relocated and how relocation can prolong their lives.
"Once these animals are deemed a problem they can't be allowed back into the wild," Wright says.
"If we find a croc in distress or in a dried-up waterhole then that's a different scenario. We can let that one go back into the wild, but generally when you've got crocs causing a problem then we have to remove them from the system as such.
"If I let a problem croc go and it kills someone then I get done for manslaughter. There are a lot of politics and rules and regulations for what we do."
Raised in far-north Queensland and Papua New Guinea, being comfortable with all manner of critters became second nature for Wright.
As an adult, he has tackled a range of jobs including outback musterer, oil rig worker, soldier in the Australian Army, crocodile egg collector and flight instructor. But crocs remain his first love.
Even at home, Wright is croc-mad, keeping a 5m-long pet saltie named Tripod, estimated to be 80 years old.
"He's got one arm missing. I've got him in his own waterhole and he's just a big, lazy slug," he laughs. "He has a pig leg and he's happy."
But Wright's biggest catch to date has to be his new wife, Kaia Hammond, whom he wed last month.
"You do think about it (the risks of the job). I do think about Kaia being back home and if something does happen, she not only loses me but she's got a mountain of stuff she's got to take care of," he says.
"But that doesn't stop me. I don't think about it when I'm on the job. I concentrate on the job because once you lose your edge then it gets dangerous."
Speaking to me on the phone from the NT, where he's in the thick of croc egg collecting season, Wright says season three of Outback Wrangler has more laughs than close calls.
"The intense, dangerous moments - there are not too many of them. We keep it pretty safe," he says.
"It's more so about the laughs and fun we have out there. Willow got flipped off an airboat into the water, which was a bit of a laugh."
Season three of Outback Wrangler premieres tonight at 8.30pm ADST on National Geographic Channel.