Solving Primate Mysteries With Dr. Mireya Mayor

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Dr. Mireya Mayor is an explorer and wildlife expert hailed a “female Indiana Jones,” by the New York Times. As a media correspondent, leading primate researcher and higher-education lecturer, Mayor travels all over the world to promote animal conservation. She has been profiled in People magazine, made television appearances on Today and MSNBC, and was recently featured in the Mark Burnett series Expedition Africa. Additionally, this Fulbright Scholar has received numerous Emmy Award nominations for her role as a field correspondent on National Geographic’s Explorer.

Now, as the host of the upcoming show Mystery Gorillas on the Nat Geo Wild, Mayor travels deep within the dense Congo jungle to observe the mysterious lives of the western lowland gorilla. Her quest brings her to a clan of dynamic gorillas, where she documents their behavior in the wild – including the first-ever observation of a gorilla making and using a tool.

But Mayor wasn’t always a primatologist. In fact, she had never been camping before her first expedition. Born and raised in Miami Beach, Florida, this slick city girl once cheered for the Miami Dolphins. Although she always loved animals, she felt “that as kids, we’re all explorers with an insatiable curiosity about the natural world, and in the 21st century I sort-of felt like everything that was going to be discovered was already discovered… when actually, nothing could be further from the truth.”

While she was in graduate school, an anthropology course ignited a childlike curiosity in Mayor. “That’s when I started asking questions about reports on animals on the verge of extinction… I started realizing that there was so much to learn about wild animals, places and cultures. The more questions I asked, the more it became clear to me that much about our natural world still remained a mystery. And I became that kid again, really wanting to go to those places to learn more about it. And hopefully make some sort of impact.”

In the last decade, Mayor’s dedication to primate conservation has certainly made an impact. While in the backcountry of Madagascar, Mayor discovered an entirely new nocturnal species: a mouse lemur, the smallest primate on the planet. This finding also led to the creation of a national park to help protect the rare species.

Mayor’s close range experience with primates has cultivated her passionate perspective. “When you look into the eye of a gorilla, it’s like you’re looking in the mirror. There’s an instant connection that humans have with primates,” she says. “They are incredibly powerful, muscular animals, but they are also very gentle family members.”

Mayor says that gorillas quickly reveal their individual personalities. While on an expedition, “you start to know which is the sweet one, the affectionate one, the grumpy one, which one to watch out for… They are very “people-like” in that way. Watching gorillas is a bit like watching a soap opera… I feel like I’m peeking into my neighbor’s window.”

In addition to the new show Mystery Gorillas, Mayor will be hosting an upcoming series on Nat Geo Wild called Wild Nights. Mayor notes, “It’s going to give a whole new meaning to urban wildlife. A lot of people think they have to travel halfway over the globe to see unique animals – but we have them in our backyards. We’re going to be highlighting some incredibly exotic animals in these iconic cities. There are creatures roaming the streets that you would never realize are there – it’s a crazily ambitious animal treasure hunt!”

Mayor and her team take their animal scavenger hunt to some of the hottest American cities – such as New Orleans and Los Angeles – acting as the “wildlife paparazzi.” Mayor encounters charismatic creatures and characters under the veil of nighttime, such as a graveyard keeper, taxi cab driver and garbage man. They will discover answers to how humans and animals co-exist in these high-populated urban environments.

While media communication about animal conservation is important to Mayor, her passion remains in her research of wild Madagascar. She frequently visits her study sites there and will continue to promote the investigation, exploration, education and conservation of wildlife in her future work.

You can discover more about Mireya Mayor at her Website.

Learn more about her documentary, Mystery Gorillas.


  1. LRobbins
    March 10, 2010, 3:18 am

    Looking forward to this show! I’ve had the opportunity to study gorillas in a zoo for over 500 hours which I thought was an amazing opportunity, so I can only imagine what it must be like to study them in the wild.