Anthropology Major Becomes TV's 'Wild' Child

When you hear the word "anthropology," do you immediately think of a trendy clothing store, or an esoteric major that promises a long waits in the unemployment line? Does anyone even study anthropology in this day and age when even the most practical majors, like accounting, medicine and computer science, can't guarantee decent jobs?

If you're one of those who are majoring in anthropology now and it's too late to back out, or if your freshman has just announced that that's what he/she wants to study and you're envisioning supporting your kid forever, you'll be inspired by National Geographic's Mireya Mayor. Not only did her major qualify her for an exciting job that takes her to exotic locations all over the world, but it also helped her become an Emmy-nominated television host whose latest series, Wild Nights with Mireya Mayor on 'National Geographic Wild,' is raising eyebrows and getting killer ratings.

Being an animal expert on television was the last thing Mayor expected to do when she graduated high school. She was the daughter of over-protective Cuban parents who wouldn't let her join Girl Scouts because they thought that was too wild. She did a stint as an NFL cheerleader and intended to go to school to become a lawyer, but once she took her first anthropology class, she was hooked.

She changed her major, got a Fulbright Scholarship, and was working on her PhD in the dreaded field of anthropology -- "the study of humankind, in all its aspects, especially human culture or human development." So, where does being a wild animal expert fit in?

"There are four sub-fields of anthropology," Mayor explains. "Archeology, culture, physical and linguistics. Under physical is the study of primates, which was my field of study." She was in Madagascar, studying the fossa, a natural predator of the lemur. (Lemurs are primates. Who knew?) That's where she ran into a National Geographic film crew that was working on one of their famous lemur specials. They saw an attractive blonde who knew her stuff, and invited her to come on board with Nat Geo. The next thing she knew, she was hosting wildlife shows for the popular cable channel.

"I was a real girly girl," she says. "I'd never even been camping before I was on my way to the Amazon to do a show." Now she's literally up to her elbows in muck and goo, and facing wild animals eye to eye on a daily basis.

Her 'Wild Nights' series explores the surprising amount of wildlife found living among humans in urban centers. She was stunned to find sea turtles the size of Volkswagons on Florida beaches, and in Rio de Janeiro, she found giant capybaras, which are rodents -- some as big as a German shepherd. Alligators are common on tropical urban streets, and bats and snakes are rampant in just about every city, the latter because people acquire them as pets and then, when they get too big, release them in parks or sewer systems. "People don't know this, but the snake population is really out of control in most urban cities," Mayor says.

"It's amazing how well wild animals adapt to live among humans," she notes. She gives the example of wild boars running free and flourishing in a city park in the middle of New Orleans. "As our cities expand, we encroach on their natural habitats, and they have a remarkable way of adjusting. You don't have to go to some exotic, faraway place to see wildlife," she says. It might be living just down the block, or even in your backyard. Check out Asylum to see what city-dwelling critters may be creeping around your town.

Speaking of backyards, as much as Mayor travels, she still concedes that there's no place like home, where she has a husband and two young daughters waiting for her. Sometimes she gets to take her family along on her exotic trips, and shes believes she's exposing them to unique and invaluable experiences. Her upcoming book, 'Pink Boots and a Machete,' chronicles her travels and experiences.

"I like to encourage women especially to follow their dreams and their passions, and not limit themselves," she says. She thinks of herself as living proof that an anthropology major can be practical and employable after all.

Watch Some 'Wild Night' Clips

Enjoying a swamp dinner:

Mireya Mayor makes friends with gorillas:

Next: 10 Jobs That Let You Work With Animals >>

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So she has a doctorate she isn't using? She's talking about animals she is unfamiliar with?... AND she got picked up randomly by coincidence? .... OHHHH well then... CLEARLY Anthropology is in fact alive and kicking.....

October 08 2013 at 2:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

A college education is never a waste, no matter what the field of study. My major had nothing to do with my field of work but it sure helped me dealing with the public as well as tripled my income.

September 05 2010 at 7:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Rae Marie Heflick

I think someone needs a reality check. Boring........

September 05 2010 at 4:27 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

People are out there hungry, homeless, dieing with no family, no friends, no one to turn to, no place to go, no jobs, no means of support, thousands of babies are being murdered each and every day {abortion}, homosexuality, STD's are running ramped, world economies are going bankrupt, people are robbing, raping, and stealing by any means possible, terrorist supporting countries like Iran have nukes, Women are trying to act like Men, and some Men are acting like Women and all you folks can think about is nonsense like this article ... you folks are sad ... very sad indeed ...

September 05 2010 at 3:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to greatheart's comment

Well there are still good people in the world, but you need to quit trying to see only the bad, in fact there may even be hope for you if you try

September 05 2010 at 3:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

OH YA, I could spend time camping with this hottie, luv real women, hate all the Paris Hiltons

September 05 2010 at 3:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

My father and mother are wildlife biologists and I have met this woman, and she is a TOTAL, blatant fake. She couldn't tell a fractured phalange from an elongated femur. And she has a disgusting habit of licking her plate while at the dinner table. She has also callously demeaned superpowers in the field of anthropology, which I find close to sin. Overall,I laugh as I see her "groundbreaking" show on the TV. Who would want to watch such a fake, rude, callous person? The people that see her for who she PRETENDS to be. That's who.

September 05 2010 at 3:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to TheFacts's comment
Audrey, CA

I'm glad she's workin with animals because she could never make it if she depended on her face! I hate to sound catty, but she must have been hit with an ugly stick!

September 05 2010 at 3:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Addison DeWitt

Wait - she's hosting a show on wild animals, not primates? So basically, she's talking about nothing for which she is qualified, unless it's about some form of primate. She knows squat about snakes, lions, etc. She looks good, so when she enthusiastically reads from a script that someone else has prepared, we're supposed to believe her when she says "As our cities expand, we encroach on their natural habitats, and they have a remarkable way of adjusting. You don't have to go to some exotic, faraway place to see wildlife." She needs to STFU.

September 05 2010 at 3:06 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Soooo, 1 out of several thousand anthropology majors actually did something with their degree and that is supposed to give parents some comfort? That's right, encourage your kid to chase a dream they didn't know they had until they entered college and that likely won't pay off. Unless you see they are potential Ph. D. candidate who can actually earn a living as a professor or researcher, I'd refrain from them pursuing such a useless field. They stand a better chance at becoming a reality TV star.

September 05 2010 at 2:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to Lindsey's comment

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