Nature meets culture: Fungal fashion, two-wheeled tourism and more

© Charlie Shoemaker

In an age of lockdowns and social distancing, connecting with nature is not easy for most. 

With that in mind, here are a few shows, podcasts and more that can help bring nature to life for you, wherever you are.

A fungal fashion trend? 

In 2021, major fashion brands including Lululemon and Stella McCartney could be debuting a new line made entirely of fungus, according to The New York Times.

Collaborating with start-up manufacturer Bolt Threads, companies are working to reduce the fashion industry’s environmental footprint by using Mylo — a leather-like clothing material derived from mycelium fungus. 

By controlling the temperature and humidity of the facilities where the mycelium grows, Bolt Threads says it is able to prevent the fungus from forming a mushroom; instead, it produces fibrous sheets of mycelium that can be transformed into eco-friendly clothes.

Not only does Mylo take just eight to 10 days to grow, it requires significantly less water to produce than traditional clothing materials like cotton — and is even biodegradable under the right conditions

With Mylo production accelerating following recent investments from fashion industry giants, mushroom-made sneakers or fungal fedoras could be hitting store shelves soon. 

This time last year, tourists from around the world flooded African ecolodges to explore the continent’s famed landscapes and iconic wildlife. 

Today, those lodges are virtually empty — and many communities that have built their livelihoods around tourism have been forced to turn to poaching as an alternative source of food and income, one leading conservationist warns.

On a recent episode of BBC podcast “The Food Chain,” Michael O’Brien-Onyeka, who heads Conservation International’s work in Africa, explained why this is happening — and what it could mean for the future of African rangelands.

“There is no insurance policy, there is no social safety set; tourism has always been their only avenue to make money,” O’Brien-Onyeka said in the podcast. “What that means is that organized criminal gangs that lead poaching have become the only employers in the area. People [are] raiding nature to survive out of desperation.”

Recent reports from Conservation International field offices have signaled a steep rise in bushmeat and ivory poaching throughout Kenya. 

What this means, O’Brien-Onyeka says, is that African countries should extend pandemic relief not just to companies, but to people. 

“The realization within the corridors of power in many African countries is that they need to put in place some shock absorbent mechanisms for the citizens. I think in the context of stimulus packages, most of discourse is always around how to support the airlines and businesses. I would love to see the government include communities and reinforcing their resilience as a top priority.”

A group of cycling aficionados is working to connect the bustling city of Bogotá, Colombia, with the surrounding natural areas that the city depends on, in a new film released today. 

In February, Conservation International partnered with and Wahoo to develop a 420-km (260-mile) bike route that starts in Bogotá and passes through forests, foothills and páramos — a unique, high-altitude montane ecosystem.

The new film follows nature-loving cyclists from these organizations on their journey to develop this route through Colombia’s rugged terrain.

“What started out as a very simple idea of combining nature and cycling — our two passions — evolved a lot from there,” said Conservation International’s Adam Charles Smith, who helped lead the expedition. “We can connect to nature and save our planet in a way that is fun and amazing.”

The film also shows viewers the significance of the region’s high-altitude cloud forests and endangered páramos, which provide most of Bogotá’s freshwater supply.

“When you ask people in a city of 10 million … where the water comes from, they say, ‘from the pipe,’ ” said Natalia Acero, a director at Conservation International in Colombia. “The reality is that the water doesn’t come from ‘the pipe’; the water has a root [in] ecosystems in Bogotá called the páramos.”

For now, the route’s development is delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Until then, you can watch the film here.

  • Learn more about this project here.


Kiley Price is a staff writer at Conservation International. Want to read more stories like this? Sign up for email updates here. Donate to Conservation International here.

Cover image: Giraffes in Chyulu Hills, Kenya (© Charlie Shoemaker)

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