Thursday, July 18, 2019

Primatologist who discovered mouse lemur to speak in Victoria

November 7, 2018 by Emma Bouck, contributing writer

As a young girl, Mireya Mayor was told it was too dangerous to join the girl scouts. Today, she has claimed the title “the female Indiana Jones.” Mayor is now a primatologist, correspondent for National Geographic, and a mother of six kids. 

“When I decided to head off on my first expedition, I had never left the country,” says Mayor, who is a former NFL cheerleader. “I didn’t even have a passport and had never been camping, so it was all very much trial and error, and a brand new experience.” 

Before realizing she wanted to be a primatologist, Mayor was focusing on her studies in pre-law. She was required to take a science class, so she chose anthropology. Little did she know her life was about to take a huge detour. 

“When we got to the section on primates, I started learning about how many species were on the verge of extinction, and many that had never been studied before,” she says. “I had always loved animals and it really piqued not just my curiosity but the urge to try and make a difference so these amazing creatures would not go extinct.”

Primatologist Mireya Mayor is known as “the female Indiana Jones” (photo courtesy of National Geographic Wild).

On one of her expeditions, Mayor made a co-discovery with a geneticist, revealing the smallest primate in the world—a mouse lemur. 

“Him and I were on an expedition together, and, lo and behold, one very rainy morning, there it was,” says Mayor. “We looked at it and it didn’t look like any of the species that had been described, and certainly not in that area. We decided to collect more genetic samples to prove our suspicion that, in fact, this was a new species to science.” 

After going through many adventures, Mayor decided to write a book, Pink Boots and a Machete, to share her stories about the science and wonders of nature. Mayor says the book’s title refers to how she was among male explorers and she felt they only saw her as a former NFL cheerleader. She found herself playing down her femininity, which didn’t last long. Instead, she did the opposite by wearing pink boots out in the field. 

“I thought the book could help inspire people to care more about the planet and hopefully motivate them to follow their dreams as well,” she says. “Because that’s also a big component of the book—to never give up, and pursue your passion.”

Mayor also lives a life of being a mother to five girls and one boy. 

“My first-born went with me to Madagascar when she was just a few months old, and my 10-year-old came with me last summer,” she says. “While it would seem once you have kids, you sort of need to stop doing this kind of thing, my motivation for protecting these places and animals has gone up because I want them to be around for them. I want to hopefully inspire them in trying to make the planet a better place for everybody.”

Mayor hopes that by learning about animals’ biological importance, people will come to appreciate their beauty, intelligence, and compassion, and become motivated to help them. She says that massive crises like the ones happening with jaguars being poached in Suriname and Latin America are issues that people need to be educated on.

“In an age where it’s so technology driven, people have sort of lost touch of the things around them,” she says. “I find that to be one of the more rewarding experiences about going out and giving these live lectures, and one of the reasons I’m so excited [about] coming to Victoria is getting people excited, not just about places around the world, but even locally; there’s so much people can do.”

National Geographic Live with Mireya Mayor
7 pm Tuesday, November 13
Student tickets $32.50 and up, Royal Theatre

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