Like many children, Lu Zhi was always curious about the natural world around her. But unlike most kids, she was to make preserving that world – and one of its most precious species – her life’s work. Dr. Lu, director of the CI affiliate Shanshui Center for Nature & Society in China, is one of the world’s top experts on panda conservation.
Her years of laboratory work and field research – living in inhospitable conditions in the forests for long periods of time – has produced a body of research unequalled in the field today. Along with international acclaim and too many awards to count.
Q: How did you come to commit yourself to saving the panda?
Lu Zhi: Initially I studied biology, but I was attracted to field work, and wanted to work outside of the lab. As an undergrad, I began studying with a professor who was focused on pandas. The more I learned, the more I wanted to learn. And once I began to understand the danger they faced as a species, I just felt I had to do something. I wanted to take all of the knowledge and training I’d accumulated, and use it into benefit others.
Q: What’s the biggest challenge you face?
Lu Zhi: The hardest thing is to change peoples’ minds and behavior. Whether it’s the government, business, or everyday people. Farmers are worrying about paying their bills, local governments are concerned about jobs and education, and conservation isn’t everyone’s top priority.
Q: How do you change minds?
Lu Zhi: It’s always a struggle. But the most important thing is to understand and appreciate why people feel the way they do. Everybody likes pandas, but their everyday issues take precedence. You have to put your feet in their shoes, and when you do you realize you’d feel the same. That helps you come up with solutions. Complaining and scolding doesn’t work.
Protect an Acre: You can help pandas by saving forests, an acre at a time!
Q: What is your experience in working with the Chinese government?
Lu Zhi: There’s a lot of cooperation. Years ago when I was doing research in an area that the logging companies worked in, my professor worked with the government to turn the area into a reserve, and that showed me that things could change. I was really encouraged. Four years after that, the government actually stopped all commercial logging in western China. And the panda benefitted a great deal. The logging companies, subsidized by the government, became tree planters. They became our ally.
Q: Is logging still a threat to the panda?
Lu Zhi: No. But habitat destruction continues in other ways, because they’re building roads and more tourists are coming. But tourism can be managed in a non-invasive, low-impact way. That’s the challenge for that industry.
Q: What impact do you think the upcoming Beijing Olympics will have on your efforts?
Lu Zhi: I think it will be positive. The panda is one of the five Olympic mascots, which shows you the high profile of the panda in China. The Olympics is “showtime” for China. It’s their time to show the world how we are doing on the environment. We can’t do it all overnight, but it’s an opportunity to show how hard we’re trying.
Q: You seem so positive. Do you ever get discouraged?
Lu Zhi: Sure. But I get strength from the people I work with, my friends. What we’re doing is part of human nature. So I can always find allies.
Q: What do you hope will be your life’s greatest accomplishment?
Lu Zhi: That’s easy! I hope that will be that one day my work won’t be needed anymore.