April 19, 2017
Wild about animals
With their hit PBS 'Wild Kratts,' brothers Chris and Martin Kratt inspire a new generation of advocates
by Emily Smith
On a recent morning, my kids awoke to find a bat snoozing on their window screen. They excitedly called me in and climbed up on their chairs for a closer look. “Mom, see his big ears? He uses those for echolocation,” whispered Eli. “And see the skin between his hind legs and tail?” Henry chimed in. “He uses that as a net to scoop up bugs, like 300 mosquitos a night!”
Um, OK. I edit and write for a magazine called All Animals, and I just got upstaged by two 6-year-olds. “Where did you learn all that?” I asked. “Wild Kratts,” they said.
Ah, yes. Martin and Chris Kratt, brothers and stars of PBS’ hit kid show Wild Kratts, have been regulars in our house for several years, teaching the kids (and, admittedly, me) about all sorts of animals. Their show is a mix of live-action and cartoon antics, with the brothers using special suits to channel animals’ special abilities (such as echolocation) to rescue them from assorted villains.
Martin, 51, and Chris, 47, are both zoologists and began their shared career in the 1990s with several other wildlife shows, including Kratts’ Creatures, which won awards from The HSUS in 1996 and 1997. Wild Kratts, which starts its fifth season this summer, is their first animated series.
“We look at each animal like we would a new friend—trying to get to know what their favorite food is, what is scary to them, what makes them happy, etc.,” Chris says. “Hopefully, by understanding animals and their amazing characteristics, abilities and Creature Powers, kids will form a more visceral attachment to all species on the planet and we can find ways to coexist.”
In this edited interview, the Kratts talk about adventures and advocacy—and answer a few questions from young fans.
MARTIN: We’ve loved animals ever since we were kids growing up in the “wilds” of suburban New Jersey! We would always go adventuring in the back woods looking for turtles, toads, raccoons and whatever we could find.
CHRIS: We also had plenty of pets, and I remember a particular nursery school I went to that had lots of animals in the classroom. Kids were allowed to take care of them on weekends and one weekend I got to take some ducklings home. I set up the kiddie pool, and we spent two days splashing around and playing with them!
MARTIN: Those kinds of experiences got us going with our love for animals, and then when we were in college studying zoology/biology we picked up a camcorder and began making our first “creature adventure” videos.
MARTIN: Kids love animals and they love to learn new things. We celebrate the fun and adventure of learning more about the world around us and I think kids share that passion. In our show, we check out each animal’s unique Creature Powers—their special abilities and talents—and imagine what it would be like to have them. To run as fast as a cheetah. Or to climb a wall like a gecko. This approach has really captured the imaginations of people of all ages.
CHRIS: Yes, and if they happen to see us on a hiking trail or in a park they are really blown away! At the end of the show we always say, “See you on the creature trail!” So when they actually do, they’re pretty surprised!
MARTIN: Film and television continues to make major technological advances in the portrayal of animals. Every year, the visuals become more and more realistic and true to the creatures. It’s great to see, because it provides the opportunity to convey a broader range of natural behaviors, as long as they are accurately represented. That said, there will always be a place for documentaries that show the real thing!
CHRIS: As we’ve traveled the world filming animals for the past couple of decades, we have seen some dramatic changes in places that we regularly return to. Parts of Indonesia and Madagascar, for example, have lost considerable wildlife habitat over that time. It becomes more and more imperative that we figure out ways to protect and manage our planet’s natural heritage, and there have certainly been success stories in that regard. Several projects, such as Ranomafana National Park in Madagascar, have been good for both wildlife and local communities.
Questions from kids
MARTIN: The aye-aye, a rare nocturnal lemur, has got to be one of the weirdest. It has bat-like ears, beaver-like teeth, a bushy squirrel-like tail and long, skeleton-like fingers. We did a Wild Kratts episode all about them!
MARTIN: No. Some spiders can be dangerous, but most of them are harmless. I like having a few spiders around—they eat bugs and are fun to watch! They have incredible Creature Powers!
CHRIS: They do fly! They just do it underwater! They flap their wings to fly like a torpedo through the water.
MARTIN: Yes, but they don’t digest their food very well, so it’s pretty dry and full of twigs and grass.
MARTIN: No, it happens so far down in the ocean that you’d need a submarine to see it. Plus, it’s very rare. Scientists know that it happens, but witnessing it is almost impossible.
CHRIS: We’ve been learning about animals since we were kids. And we’ve never stopped learning. Every day we learn something new about the cool animals in the world!
CHRIS: I’d say he likes working with me, more than I like working with him (laughs). Just kidding, bro!
MARTIN: We’re really lucky that we get to travel around the world creature adventuring together.
CHRIS: We have a blast!