Five minutes with Ecuadorian conservationist Yolanda Kakabadse

Founder of the Fundación Natura in Quito, former Minister of Environment in the government of Ecuador and ex-president of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Ecuadorian conservationist Yolanda Kakabadse certainly has an array of impressive accolades to her name. Unwaveringly dedicated to conservation and environmental issues, she visits pioneering eco-retreat Mashpi Lodge today, and has kindly agreed to answer some of BIRD’s questions below.

  • Q: What inspired you to change career from educational psychology to environmentalism?
    • A: The fascinating challenge of better understanding the dynamics between humans and nature, and the potential to influence / promote a rational use of our natural resources.


  • Q: What brought you to Mashpi Lodge and what lessons can be learnt from the hotel’s sustainability initiatives?
    • A: The beauty of Mashpi and its surroundings. It’s become a model of sustainable management from the perspective of tourism, conservation, science and integration amongst local communities.


  • Q: What do you currently see as the biggest threat to Ecuador’s  biodiversity, and how can this be managed?
    • A: Weak governance and ignorance. Biodiversity conservation and use is not a responsibility of government alone. All sectors must be actively involved in supporting public awareness programs. Understanding what “Natural Capital” means, will mobilize society into its responsible use.


  • Q: What do you think are the most important ways in which governments, travel companies, hotels and tourist boards can ensure that tourism development remains sustainable and positive for the natural environment?
    • A: (1) Understanding of the meaning and potential of Conservation and Sustainability; (2) Participatory Management, that is, involving key actors, such as local communities, local governments, the private sector, etc. (3) Medium and long term strategies, recognizing that quick wins are not sustainable. (4) strong governance structures: from clarity of public policies to strong and visionary Boards.


  • Q: What are the most important strategies the tourism industry can employ to ensure a low carbon footprint?
    • A: Focus on few but measurable objectives such as water and energy use. Stakeholders – tourists and other actors – must be able to understand, to have indicators that demonstrate the value and impact of participatory responses.


  • Q: How can we travel more sustainably, and how can we motivate more people to do so?
    • A: Influence – be outspoken, about culture and behaviour of travel companies (especially air) on issues such as waste management, food loss, reduction of plastic waste, water and energy efficiency, etc.


  • Q: In your travels, where stands out as a great example of sustainable tourism management?
    • A: Mashpi is a great example in Ecuador; and countries like Zambia, Bhutan and Costa Rica. The main challenge of course is to ensure real sustainability, that is, economic, social and environmental gains.