Dr. Mireya Mayor: For more than a decade, I have dedicated my life to exploring remote and previously uncharted parts of the world in search of little-known species facing extinction. I have met indigenous people who had never seen a foreigner and, with their help and guidance, have come face-to-face with some of the rarest, most spectacular animals on the planet. Some of the most amazing wildlife I have come across occurred as I traversed nearly a thousand miles across Tanzania. I came face-to-face with elephants, lions, giraffes, hyenas and pools clouded with hippos. In the Amazon, giant river otters led me through windy rivers while I studied monkeys so rare, there were no photographs of them at the time. But perhaps the highlight of my career was working with western lowland gorillas in the Congo, the least known of the great apes.
LO: How and where did you discover the world's smallest primate?
Dr. Mireya Mayor: In 2000, whilst on an expedition in Madagascar, I co-discovered a new species of mouse lemur (Microcebus mittermeieri), previously unknown to science. Like the bonobos, lemurs are in dire threat of extinction, due in large part to habitat loss and destruction, with less than 10 percent of the original forest in Madagascar still standing. This little creature became a huge ambassador for all things wild in Madagascar, as I was able to take my findings to the prime minister and president of this African island nation and eventually convince them to declare the new species habitat a national park. This discovery serves as a constant reminder that we still have much to learn about our natural world and the importance of striving to protect it.
Explorer and primatologist Dr. Mireya Mayor is the host of Wild Nights with Mireya Mayor on Nat Geo Wild. Read more about her expeditions in her book Pink Boots & a Machete: My Journey from NFL Cheerleader to National Geographic Explorer.