My definition of “wrangler” was of a person who took care of horses, or of a new pair of blue jeans. That was until I met Jules Sylvester, a 6’6″ animal trainer and herpetologist who works in both movies and television. Since then I have found that movies who have any animal have wranglers to train and handle them during the filming.
Some of the films that have used his expertise are Jurassic Park, Casino Royale, Something About Mary, the chimpanzees in Project X, the snakes in the pit in Indiana Jones, and Out of Africa where he trotted along in front of the lions.
Born in Devon in 1950, Jules and his family moved to Kenya where he began catching snakes when he was l6 years old. He served in the Rhodesian Light Infantry during the Rhodesian Bush War in 1973-74. Today he owns Reptile Rentals which provides a variety of animals for films, photo shoots and commercials. “Vermin wranglers is what we are” he says in his soft British accent. “Everything nobody likes, we’ve got it.” Asked once how he trained snakes, he laughed and said “You can’t make a snake do anything they don’t want to. They’re not that smart and I’m not that clever. This is more like reptile management.”
Jules and his delightful wife, Sue, who came from Zimbabwe as a small child, are friends of my daughter and her family. They married in 1987, and I was privileged to paint their wedding portrait.
Mr. and Mrs. Jules Sylvester watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen
After visiting Jules’s snake collection a number of years ago, one grandson, now a wildlife biologist, and a young friend armed with a homemade snare, went snake hunting in the hills behind their home in Southern California. When our son-in-law came home for lunch, he found stretched on the fence a six foot rattlesnake skin and meat of the critter roasting away on the barbeque with plates and napkins waiting on the table. His advice to the boys “Get that mess cleaned up before your mother comes home.”