More than 17,000 enter China panda-keeper contest

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More than 17,000 people from around the world have entered a contest to become a panda keeper for a month in China, organisers said Friday, less than two weeks after the competition was launched.

"Project Panda," launched by the Chengdu Panda Base in the southwestern province of Sichuan and the WWF, aims to give the contest's six winners a chance to study panda behaviour for one month.

The keepers will witness the birth of baby pandas and trek in the mountains around Chengdu, Sichuan's capital, to study wild pandas.

They will also have to keep a blog about their experiences, to help raise awareness of the endangered animal's plight.

According to www.pandahome.com, the website where animal lovers can apply for the position, a total of 17,114 people have so far entered the contest, ahead of the September 6 deadline.

A panel of experts will select 12 finalists, which they will then whittle down to six winners at the end of September.

Videos posted on the website by applicants who want the position show they come from countries such as the Netherlands, South Africa and Japan - as well as China.

There are just 1,600 pandas left in the wild and nearly 300 others are in captive-bred programmes worldwide, mainly in China, according to official reports.

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