The Galo Plaza Lasso Foundation was established in 1995 to honor the lasting legacy of former Ecuadorian president, Galo Plaza Lasso. Lasso was the first to introduce rural education to Ecuador, starting schools in his properties in the late 1940s. Then in the 1960s he created embroidery programs to add supplemental household income. He tirelessly promoted the conservation of the country’s native forests. Today, The Galo Plaza Lasso Foundation is administered by Lasso’s ancestors—staff members of Hacienda Zuleta—and strives to build upon his foundation through improving the educational, environmental, and socioeconomic well-being of the Zuleta community and outlying areas within Ecuador’s Imbabura province.
Firstly, the Embroidery Project works with the local indigenous population to conserve their cultural identity and artistic expression by providing a sustainable income from their hand-produced embroidery. Here guests can meet with members of the Zuleta community. Hand embroidery has been an important part of their artistic and cultural expression for centuries. The project aims to keep this art form alive in the community through educational components. Additionally, it provides the local people with a sustainable form of income through their own embroidery shop.
Education Project and Zuleta Library
Secondly, the Educational Project funds 14 basic needs scholarships and the stewardship of the Zuleta Library. Here children can gain assistance with their schoolwork and the larger community can benefit from classes on organic agriculture, responsible citizenship, recycling, and sustainable living. Moreover, local children spend their afternoon here, receiving help with homeworking, reading, and playing.
Condor Huasi Project
In 2019, Ker & Downey expanded its support to include the foundation’s conservation efforts. The Condor Huasi Project is dedicated to protecting seven rescued condors at Hacienda Zuleta. After the birth of Illapa, a young male, in 2019, the Galo Plaza Lasso Foundation proudly announced the birth of a new Andean condor chick in its Condor Huasi center in November 2020. The hatching of this female, named Toa, is a special event as she is the very first chick of the pair Coya and Tarishka, who became the second captive breeding pair of the country. This birth occurred within the framework of the national program for the conservation of the species.
Guests staying at Hacienda Zuleta can meet with the biologists to learn about the Condor Project. They can also see rescued condors in the aviary and visit the nearby trout farm. Additionally, they can embark on a morning hike, bike, or horseback ride to experience the condor reserve. In the mornings, it’s possible to catch a glimpse of wild condors soaring as the sunlight creates thermal updrafts. The Condor Project is located a short 3 miles from the guesthouse in a native forest valley.
Andean Spectacled Bear
The Andean spectacled bear is the only bear in South America. Thus it seemed only natural for the Galo Plaza Lasso Foundation to take this endangered species under their wing. Both 2019 and 2020 were prolific years for the bear population in Zuleta. The eight cubs that were born then are now independent. They’ve left their moms, ensuring the survival of the species once again.
The 2020-2021 generation of the Andean bear is now starting to show up. The Foundation identified three cubs from two females who started to roam the native highland forest that Hacienda Zuleta and the commune of Zuleta are protecting.
For a hands-on conservation activity, hike the Condor trails with the lead biologists to collect the memory cards from the cameras along the trails. Then return to the facility to plug the memory cards into the computers to see film of the condors and spectacled bears in their native habitats. Afterward, the scientists map out the animals’ movements.
Lastly, the Archaeology Project was created for the preservation and ongoing research of Caranqui. This is the largest pre-Incan archaeology site in the region.
Every South America reservation made through Ker & Downey generates a donation to the Galo Plaza Lasso Foundation. To learn more about The Galo Plaza Lasso Foundation’s work in the Andes, please visit their website.