Chinese Contest Stirs Worldwide Panda-monium

Conservationists hope that by encouraging visitors to appreciate the beauty of captive pandas, it will fuel efforts to protect the habitat of their wild siblings.
Thousands of people are hoping to get six jobs in China. The job? "Pambassador" or panda ambassador.

CBS News correspondent Celia Hatton visited China's Chendu Panda Reserve, where they're hoping a contest will publicize the plight of the endangered panda.

Pandas are the rock stars of the animal kingdom, drawing crowds and cameras to their every move.

So, it's no surprise a global competition to serve as a "Pambassador" - or panda ambassador - is intense. Winners get to spend a month in China working closely with these endangered animals. The contest attracted 61,000 entries from 52 countries.

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Pictures from Inside the Panda Preserve

The payoff for the contest is to help preserve the panda and publicize its plight. But the captive pandas live a life of relative luxury - eating bamboo for 10 hours and sleeping for another 12.

Caring for the pandas is the job of a dozen contest finalists at Chengdu Panda Reserve.They're vying for six spots: learning how to make panda protein pies and literally showering the objects of their affection.

The only American contender, Ashley Robertson, has loved pandas since she was a little girl in Alabama.

"When I came across this contest, I thought "Oh my gosh, golden opportunity right here, in my hands," she said.

The finalists have become Chinese media darlings. In China, the panda craze is as clear as black and white. There's the panda car, panda luxury cigarettes and dogs - man's best friend - are repainted as China's favorite animal.

Worldwide, just 1,600 pandas still exist in the wild. Conservationists hope the contest will draw attention to the giant bear's shrinking forests.

With the hope that by celebrating panda-monium in panda reserves, this rare animal's siblings will have a chance at a future in the wild.