Gudrun Sperrer
After college Gudrun left Austria and arrived in the Amazon jungle without a penny in her pocket. She started making and selling jewelry on the street, barefoot. With a little inherited money she bought an abandoned ranch and built a zoo, a butterfly farm, and a wild animal rescue clinic called Pilpinuwasi which is open to tourists outside of the jungle city of Iquitos. In it, all the animals are free, except those who would get in trouble, like the leopard. They stay there because it's their home and because Gudrun has built them a family.

I spoke to her over lunch at a street cafe. Before we were finished she had invited three street children over to eat with us. One local refered to her as the best woman in Iquitos.

Interview Excerpts
Read the full interview :

"Sometimes it is very sad when an animal dies. Like the last animal that was killed a few months ago — I was very, very sad — was a kinkajou, also known as a Honeybear, a night active animal of the raccoon family. Very naughty, very active, hyper-active, but cute! I had raised it from very small, and also crippled.

"She slept in the daytime… But at 1 in the morning… she came in and wanted to play, and she just got into your bed and would jump on you, biting you, and whatever. But besides that she’s so soft and so nice. It’s the only animal that I know that is incredibly nice smelling… it smells like vanilla… so soft and so nice. And then somebody shot it…

"I’m sometimes angry at them because they’re not into learning things, which is something I hate: to be happy only with what you know. To want to change things…"

"So I remember when the guide took me (into the jungle). You cannot use power in the boat, we had to pole it because the river is not deep and there’s lots of stones. And we were going for a few hours and suddenly he stopped and said 'OK, you get out here.' But I said 'There is no village here?' And he said 'No, I don’t go any further'…”

"I had a strange feeling, it was around evening, I was this stupid gringa that was going to get lost in the jungle. So I walked and I found lots of people in the river washing. The men use the loincloths and the women used a wrap. They didn’t run away but many of them turned away when I came…"

"Then I stopped and a guy came up to where I was walking. He was all painted black on his arms and his face. And he asked me in Spanish… 'And what do you want?' I said I don’t want much of you but I would ask if I could maybe stay with you and learn something from you. The first question then was 'Are you a missionary?' I said 'No!' Then he said, 'OK, come on.' ”

"…believe in the good things… believe that it’s worth at least to save one thing for future generations. And it’s worth it, that’s something important. And you don’t lose that feeling. When you’re adult and you haven’t learned that, it becomes very hard to keep believing in things when you see that nobody else does, or everything’s against you…

Copyright © 2010, Lincoln Stoller. All rights reserved.