Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Wildlife Pro Also Savors Her Wild Life 

Posted by James at 9:06 AM ET

By Judy Chia Hui Hsu
Seattle Times

Mireya Mayor's job requirements are a little different from most.

She swims among great white sharks off the coast of Mexico. She rappels down 14,000-foot sinkholes in search of frogs in Guyana, South America. She tracks silver-backed gorillas in Central Africa. And she draws blood samples from rare lemurs in Madagascar.

At age 33, Mayor is a National Geographic wildlife correspondent twice nominated for an Emmy award. She is also a primatologist who does genetic research involving endangered primates.

Sunday, Mayor shared her "adventures and misadventures" with about 500 people at Benaroya Hall in a talk called "My Wild Life: Discovery in Madagascar," part of the National Geographic Live! lecture series. Mayor will give the presentation again tonight to a sold-out hall.

"I love the adventure, the exploration, the scientific discovery and the documentation," Mayor said. "But really what drives me is the thought that future generations — my own children and their children — can one day learn to appreciate them like I do."

Mireya Mayor
Mireya Mayor, primatologist and journalist, holds a mouse lemur. She's in Seattle as part of the "National Geographic Live!" series.

A native of Miami, Mayor said her interest in primates was sparked while taking an anthropology course at the University of Miami. She was also a Miami Dolphins Cheerleader, so she stayed in top physical shape. A series of grants gave her the chance to travel to Guyana and Madagascar to study rare primates. Mayor now is finishing a doctorate in anthropology at Stony Brook University in New York state.

In her presentation, Mayor showed a photo of herself submerged in a cage next to a great white shark. She told the audience that the cage's bars were far enough apart that the shark could have swum inside.

Her team had been studying why these particular sharks were so aggressive. They found that the great whites were coming closer to shore because fishermen were overfishing the tuna.

Turning to her work in Madagascar, Mayor showed photos of both the world's largest and smallest chameleons to help illustrate the island nation's rich biodiversity and the problems it faces.

With an image of a lemur trap came a story of how she would dismantle them. And with a photo of Malagasy people, Mayor noted that more than half of the population is under the age of 14.

Although her work has taken her all over the world, Mayor said Madagascar is among her favorite places. She has even taken her 19-month-old daughter, Emma, with her. Now pregnant with her second child, Mayor will return to Madagascar this summer.

"I hope to continue my research in areas that have previously been unexplored," she said.

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