Our own ‘Indy Jones’
Wildlife expert comes home with tales of pink boots, machetes.
Mireya Mayor drank cow blood in Tanzania, swam with aggressive sharks in Mexico and faced a 400-pound silverback gorilla in the Congo. But the South Florida-raised wildlife expert still can’t get a “that’s cool, Mom” from her daughter, Emma.
“My other kids are really into animals and exploration and science, but I don’t think my 12-year-old thinks I’m as cool as they do,” says Mayor, who lives in Virginia with her husband and six children.
Of course, friends and colleagues already heap plenty of praise on the researcher. As a globetrotting anthropologist, primatologist, conservationist and correspondent for National Geographic, Mayor’s life plays out like a nature travelogue, prompting friends to dub her a “female Indiana Jones.”
Mayor, 45, won’t object to that title, although she prefers saving endangered animals to chasing Holy Grails. On Thursday, Mayor will bring her talk “Pink Boots and a Machete” to the Crest Theatre at Old School Square, part of a lecture series organized by National Geographic.
The daughter of Cuban immigrants who raised her in Miami Beach, Little Havana and Pembroke Pines, Mayor loved surrounding herself with animals as a child. “I grew up with a zoo in my house,” Mayor says with a laugh, adding that her grandfather built cages for stray chickens she caught.
While a student at the University of Miami, she spent about a year as a Miami Dolphins cheerleader. But after enrolling in an anthropology class, Mayor traded in her cheerleader pompoms for pink hiking boots on a whim. Fashion would not take a backseat to her career, she says.
“I just fell in love with the subject, and what really captivated my interest was the section on primates, ones that haven’t been studied and ones on the verge of extinction,” says Mayor, later encouraged by her anthropology professor to apply for research grants. One week after cheering at her final game, Mayor hopped a plane to Guyana.
Today, obligations at home prevent her from taking expeditions longer than six weeks, although Mayor says the pink boots are still part of the wardrobe.
She uses her femininity as a force of empowerment in the field, and for her children.
“I never wanted to hide my femininity in order to be taken more seriously in the field, so I made a statement to wear pink boots,” Mayor says. “I feel like I’m in overdrive these days, because I see the state of the planet, and all of the magnificent creatures my kids might not see, and it drives me to do more for their sake. They need to see who their mother really was, so I can show them that they can do it all.”
“Mireya Mayor: Pink Boots and a Machete” will take place 7-9 p.m. Thursday at the Crest Theatre at Old School Square, 51 N. Swinton Ave., in Delray Beach. Admission costs $15-$25. Call 561-243-7922, or go to OldSchoolSquare.org.
Friends of globe-trotting, South Florida-raised wildlife expert Mireya Mayor call her a “female Indiana Jones.”