Gonna Go Wild!

Martin and Chris Kratt stand before a misty mountain.
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The Only “Problem” With Making Wild Kratts Is Actually Good News For Fans

With a literal planet full of animals, there’s no dearth of content to explore.

From the ages of 2 to 10, my now-tween son was obsessed with Wild Kratts, a nature show on PBS Kids hosted by zoologists and veteran presenters Chris and Martin Kratt. Each episode would feature the brothers in live-action and cartoon form, traveling the world in search of exotic and everyday animals to learn about their remarkable “creature powers.” My kiddo was convinced he, like the Kratt Brothers, could harness the power of assorted creatures. Like the time he spotted a Goldfish cracker on the floor and, remembering a recent episode that highlighted a certain bird’s ability to catch fish with its feet, climbed onto the couch and shouted “Here comes the osprey!” before pouncing on the snack, smooshing it into a barely extractable mess on the carpet.

“I love that!” Martin Kratt laughs when I recall the story. “Experiential learning! That’s what we really tried to do with Wild Kratts ... so the kids could imagine themselves doing what the animals do. That’s the best way to learn!”

Talking to Martin is like talking to a kid deep in their animal obsession phase. Over the course of our talk, I’m regaled with stories about feisty river otters, camels who love getting groomed with garden rakes, friendly aye-ayes, and baby chimps who don’t know how to use their gentle hands. “I just always loved animals,” he says simply. “Ever since I was the age of the kids who were watching Wild Kratts now.”

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The brothers grew up in a part of New Jersey that had recently transitioned from farmland to suburbs. There was plenty of wildlife left to keep them entertained — ponds full of frogs and box turtles, plenty of trees to climb to check out the squirrels — until the family’s annual camping vacations in Vermont allowed them to experience bobcats, moose, and porcupines as well. Not surprisingly, both Martin and Chris wound up on biology tracks in college, Chris at Carleton College and Martin at Duke University where he was able to get a work-study job at the Duke Lemur Center.

“I got to feed all the lemurs, like aye-ayes and sifakas and ring-tailed lemurs. It was the best,” he says. “The first aye-aye that was born in captivity, they called him Blue Devil, and I was in there feeding him. They’re very curious, and he came down and started tapping on my watch with that long finger they have.”

“Looking for bugs!” I whisper excitedly.

“Yeah, exactly!” he says brightly. I don’t tell him that, thanks to my now 12-year-old son, I’ve seen the “Aye-Aye” episode of Wild Kratts (and everything episode that aired from 2011 to about 2020) about 100 times.

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He, and eventually Chris, worked with a number of former professors at research stations after college — Madagascar with Dr. Pat Wright to study lemurs, Costa Rica with Dr. Ken Glander to observe howler monkeys, and the Peruvian Amazon with Dr. John Terborgh, in search of the rare giant river otter. Through these assorted adventures, they had access to incredible creatures that they were able to film on location.

“Our dream was to create a TV show and show kids all the animals on the planet,” he says, noting that in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, such shows didn’t really exist. “Looking back, I never would’ve thought that we would’ve made three subsequent shows. Because we were zoology guys, we weren’t TV guys.”

Initially, they used the footage they captured to make films that they took around elementary schools along the east coast. They developed a system: go on expedition, make a film, and then come back to the United States and give presentations to school groups, where they were able to receive feedback. “And then we went to Madagascar and made some more films and just kept trying to improve it until we had a pilot that got green lit.”

The films they were able to make, thanks to those opportunities, ultimately became the pilot for Kratts’ Creatures, the brothers’ first series, which would be followed by Zoboomafoo, Be The Creature, and ultimately Wild Kratts, which has been on the air since 2011.

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The series has continued to take them around the world on “creature adventures,” the beginning and end of every episode features the two introducing the theme of the episode, often with footage of an adorable baby animal. But because the series is primarily animated, they’re able to show unique animal behaviors and habitats that would be difficult or even impossible to capture even with months in the field. This was particularly relevant since both men had young families when the series began. But since on-location shoots didn’t have to be months long to capture the hunting habits of a jaguar, Martin’s boys, Gavin and Ronan, and Chris’ sons, Nolan and Aidan, were able to join them in some of their travels.

“I was going back to Madagascar for the third time on Wild Kratts, so I brought the boys with me,” he says. “It was so great finding chameleons in the forest, and we went to this waterfall where this species of frog lives at this waterfall and nowhere else in the world. Found all the sorts of lemurs. So it was a great, great experience, and it was great to share it with my kids.”

Martin’s sons — who even appeared in cartoon form on the show when they were younger — are adults now “pursuing their own careers and dreams.” But just as he was able to share the world of animals with them, so too are adults who grew up on Kratts’ Creatures and Zoboomafoo watching Wild Kratts with their children. I ask how he feels when he reflects on his now multigenerational legacy.

“It’s so funny you brought that up because that’s something we’ve been talking about as we’ve gone back on tour since the pandemic,” he says. “Because when we meet people, parents and their kids, what you’re saying is the phenomena we’re encountering now. And I think it feels really good just to be a part of that continuum, and families learning about the animals. I love it. Because we always wanted our shows to be something that anybody could watch, not just for kids.”

Fortunately, there doesn’t appear to be an end in sight for animal loving families. Wild Kratts returns with new episodes on April 1 starting with a new movie special, Our Blue and Green World. You can check out Romper’s exclusive clip below!

And with a literal planet full of animals, there’s no dearth of content to explore.

“It’s so easy to figure out new episodes,” he says. “Actually the problem is, well, which one should we do next? We’ve already got a list [of creatures we want to cover] that’s like 100 animals long.” There’s also always the question of which brother gets to write which episode. “Sometimes we both want to do a particular animal. I think right now we might be vying for who’s going to write a California Condor episode. But there’s a lot of animals to go around, so we usually figure it out.”

“We’re doing what we loved ever since we were kids,” he smiles. “We’re just keeping on creature-venturing, like the way we sign off every show.”

Our Blue and Green World premieres on PBS Kids on April 1.