Want to be a panda keeper?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

BEIJING - Want to be a panda keeper in China? Well, you have to be trained in cleaning out enclosures and weighing the bears’ excreta.

A total of 12 people managed to learn all these and more to make it to the final round for one of the world’s most unusual jobs - a panda keeper at a research base in Chengdu in Sichuan province.

The finalists, from 11 countries, were chosen from about 62,000 applicants by wildlife conservation experts after an online poll.

They started a week’s training at the Chengdu Research Base for Giant Panda Breeding and learnt about cleaning and sterilising panda enclosures, feeding the bears and even weighing their excrement.

The finalists, aged from 20 to 40, were amazed to find out that five cubs can produce 16 kg of excrement a day.

“Quantity, colour and form of the excrement are important indicators of panda health,” Wang Jishan, an expert in charge of selecting the eventual winners, was quoted as saying by the Shanghai Daily.

David Algranti, a candidate from France, enjoyed preparing meals for the pandas, washing fresh bamboo and cutting a huge pile of apples, each into six slices.

Algranti and his fellow finalists watched as pandas tucked into their favorite food.

“They are so cute. I’d really love to learn more about pandas,” said Annelijin Steenbruggen, a journalist and photographer from the Netherlands.

Steenbruggen said she was “in love with animals and the beauty of nature”, which was why she was competing for a chance to become a “pambassador”.

Six finalists will be eliminated and those remaining will be named “pambassadors”.

The final test will include questions and answers and a presentation to show the candidates’ personalities.

The six chosen ones will spend a month working as panda keepers in Chengdu and blog about their experiences to raise awareness about the endangered animals.

Project Panda was launched by the Chengdu research base in collaboration with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

Giant pandas populated China’s northern, central and southern regions up to a million years ago, but human activities, including poaching, and climate change have seriously reduced their numbers and habitat.

“By the mid 20th century, pandas were found only in Sichuan, Shaanxi and Gansu provinces. Today, only about 1,600 still live in the wild,” said WWF senior project officer Xu Qiang.

About 310 pandas have been bred in captivity in zoos worldwide.

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