I was born in 1961 in Steyr, Austria. I have always loved nature, both my grandparents were farmers, but my parents became teachers. My father studied Psychology later in life and began teaching at a university.
Up to my 5th year we lived in a small village in the countryside. There, my father studied, my mother worked as a teacher, my elder brother and sister attended school, so my twin sister and I were left with a neighbour or grandma. We were outside most of the time. My mother still remembers that once she came home from school—I was so young, I couldn’t walk very well yet, but when she arrived I came along carrying a snake longer than me and telling her “Look mummy what a big worm I’ve found!”
I was never afraid of animals and always wanted to have a dog or a horse, which we couldn’t have because my parents worked and all of were at school. Instead I walked the neighbour’s dogs and decided to study to be a veterinarian . . . but one neighbour, who was a vet, told me I wouldn’t be strong enough to be able to pull out a newborn calf or horse being a woman, etc., and finally I decided to study social work.
During a visit to Austria two years after I first left, my Mother showed me a notebook of my second year in primary school where I had had to write about “What I want to be when I’m grown up.” I had written that I wanted to be an investigator in the jungle and have a parrot and a monkey. I hadn’t remembered that wish, but maybe my subconscious did.
After having completed studies and practice work, I left Austria wanting to do something “good” in another country. I had always wanted to get to know the Amazon, and as there was a cheap one year ticket from Aeroflot (Russian airline) to Peru, I decided to go. I found out about the many needs of people in Peru.
I worked at a little village as a school teacher and after one year decided to pay $20 to Aeroflot to stay another year.
I finally got a four-year contract to do development projects in that village. I had to organize the people: We made a fish pond, a pig farm and worked on sanitarian projects.
After my contract was finished I didn’t want to go back to Austria.
I worked as the director of the kindergarten, which made me realize that at this age you still can teach children changes in behaviour.
When I visited Austria in 1995, the Vienna Zoo’s new attraction was a “Butterfly house.” I recognized many of the butterflies from the Amazon. I was told that the people who exhibit the living butterflies buy them mostly from Costa Rica, and I though that would be a great job—working with animals, but animals you don’t get attached to (at least not to each individual) and being able to make a living from them. That’s when I started looking for host plants and started to breed.
During the permit process, we had to contact the biologists in charge. They noticed that I care for wildlife, and so they started dropping confiscated animals at our place. After receiving Pedro the Jaguar and having no place to send him, we decided to do all the paperwork to get official status as Custody Centre.
In between caring for the butterflies and the animals, I teach English and German at the faculty for Education and Human Sciences at the public University of the Peruvian Amazon in Iquitos. The National University of the Peruvian Amazon was founded 1961 and is the cultural, religious, and tourist centre of eastern Peru.
The Beginnings of The Amazon Animal Orphanage
November 2004: We Are An Official Custody Centre Now!!
The Amazon Animal Orphanage was recognized by the Peruvian Government in 2004. Annual Operating Plans and budgets describing future activities were submitted, indicating that we have at least one house reserved to quarantine animals when they are sick and to store medicines and another house as storage for food. We provided empty, but ready, cages, all to be ready in time for government inspection.
We met our deadlines and received our permit for the Animal Orphanage. As soon as we were set up, two people came by wanting to leave their ocelots with us. One of them is willing to pay for the food, but not the cage, and another animal was confiscated by the government. (The government does not confiscate animals unless they are in very bad shape.)
That was the beginning of The Amazon Animal Orphanage. Now, a decade later, we are still caring for endangered species.