Our own ‘Indy Jones’

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - - FRONT PAGE - By Phillip Valys Staff writer

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.

BRENT STIRTON/COUR­TESY

Friends of globe-trot­ting, South Florida-raised wildlife ex­pert Mireya Mayor call her a “fe­male In­di­ana Jones.”

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