BEIJING, Aug. 17 (Xinhuanet) -- The Chengdu research base of giant panda breeding launched "Project Panda", an online competition seeking six "pambassadors" to spend a month at the base in the Sichuan provincial capital, at Expo 2010 Shanghai on Monday.
The competition, run with the support of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), will narrow down the list of finalists to 12 next month. They will undergo a weeklong training course in Chengdu before the six winners are named at the end of September.
The six will spend four weeks at the base and its environs, learning about panda rearing, how to track pandas in the wild, and the steps being taken to protect the wild panda population. Giant pandas, an endangered species, are seen as a symbol of international friendship in China.
Researchers at the base said much work still needs to be done to get giant pandas off the endangered list. There are an estimated 1,000 to 1,600 wild pandas worldwide and around 300 in captivity, and the vast majority of these are in China. The Chengdu base houses 96.
"Captive breeding has definitely increased, but we're still very worried about pandas in the wild," said Sarah Bexell, chief director of the department of conservation education. "We don't even really know how many there are."
She said the biggest threat to the surviving panda population is humans encroaching on the their natural habitat. "Global climate change may also be a contributing factor because hotter temperatures pushes their habitat up higher, and they're already living at a high altitude," she added.
The Chengdu base is a proven tourist magnet, with visitors willing to spend 1,000 yuan ($146) for minutes in the company of one of the young pandas. The center, which opened in 1987, engages in ecological projects and invites celebrities to adopt its pandas as a way of spreading awareness of the animal's plight and raising funds.
Bexell said the purpose of the latest promotional campaign is to raise awareness of pressing ecological issues, not only restricted to giant pandas.
"Pandas are just a symbol," she said. "Even though we love them, we're still not giving them enough space, or resources.
"So I hope we can get people all around the world to think about things like family planning and over consumption, then maybe they'll be kinder to the earth."
People interested in applying to become a "pambassador" have six weeks to do so. They then have two choices: either upload a one-minute self-introductory video or take part in an online panda care educational game at www.pandahome.com.
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