© Lü Zhi/Shan Shui Conservation CentreLü Zhi has studied pandas for two decades and is director of conservation biology at Peking University
Lü Zhi is the director of the Center for Nature and Society at Peking University, Beijing, China.

Are attitudes to the environment in China changing as people's wealth increases?

There are two trends. One is a greater awareness. For instance, a group of young Chinese entrepreneurs is calling for an end to the consumption of shark fin soup. But there is also a rise in the number of affluent people who want to show off their wealth. Eating wildlife is a part of Chinese culture, so when people get richer they eat more wildlife. They need something to persuade them. I think culture is the most effective tool. A respect for life is part of the Buddhist tradition, which has had a big influence on Chinese culture, though sometimes people forget it.

Is it possible to preserve biodiversity in the world's fastest-developing country?

It depends. If you take pandas as an example, then yes, it is. But if you take the Yangtze river dolphin, which was declared functionally extinct in 2006, then no, it isn't. The critical point is to make conservation relevant to others. The panda has no practical value to people but its looks help ensure its survival.

What about the vast majority of wildlife that lacks the emotional draw of the panda?

We use the panda as a flagship to protect all the other creatures and plants where it lives. But what is really needed is a new economic system that recognises and pays for the value of nature.

Is this new economic system in place?

In some provinces of China, GDP is not the only measure of development. The economic value of ecosystems, such as the carbon dioxide absorbance of forests, are factored in. At Shan Shui, the NGO I run, we want to show specific things that can be implemented, such as water users paying a proportion of their water-use fee to subsidise forest conservation upstream. It's a market-based attempt at conservation.

What comes next?

To work with economists. I recently went to a forum to brainstorm issues to be discussed at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. In one discussion there were 30 to 40 people focusing on the economy and me, with my focus on ecology. I looked out for how often they mentioned biodiversity or conservation. Neither term was mentioned. That was a reality check for me. I think the next step is to work with economists, otherwise we conservationists are just talking to ourselves.

How did last year's earthquake in Sichuan affect the pandas that breed there?

Their habitat was damaged by landslides, increasing the fragmentation of the wild populations. There are at least 10 separate panda populations, each with fewer than 10 individuals. These groups are the concern.