SINGAPORE, Oct. 13 (Xinhua) -- The Asia Pacific semifinal of a global initiative to recruit three giant panda conservation ambassadors kicked off in Singapore on Saturday.
The Asia Pacific semifinal of the Chengdu Pambassador 2012 gathered 24 semi-finalists from the region competing for four positions in the finals, which will take place from late October to November in Chengdu, capital of China's southwestern province of Sichuan, the hometown of the giant pandas.
They will participate in a series of challenges from Saturday to Monday, which had been designed to test their endurance and creativity, their knowledge of and passion for giant pandas, and their ability to spread the conservation message, organizers said.
In one of highlights, they participated in the Pandamaze on Saturday afternoon, where they have to navigate their way through a maze by correctly answering questions about giant pandas.
The semifinalists will be judged on how well they complete the challenges, as well as how many votes they garner on a specially created Facebook application.
The top four winners from each of the four regional semifinals will advance to the finals in Chengdu. The top three winners from the finals will serve as the Chengdu Pambassador for a year. They will train at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding before travelling around the world to all the countries and regions that have giant pandas.
The response was amazing in Singapore, where two giant pandas from China, Kai Kai and Jia Jia, just arrived last month.
Organizers also invited singers and fashion designers to participate in the show. Juliet Simms, the runner-up on the U.S. reality talent show The Voice, and British singer Cher Llyod will sing at a concert on Saturday evening where guests are invited to dress in black and white, the colors of giant pandas.
Simms said that she had been a panda lover ever since young and that she has two little black and white kitties.
"I was shocked to find out there were only 1,600 (giant) pandas left in the wild. So right now it's time to do something about it and spread the word about the conservation of their habitat," she said.
The Chengdu Pambassador 2012 was sponsored by the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, and co-sponsored by organizations WildAid and the Yao Ming Foundation.
The global initiative is aimed to raise the awareness about the protection of the giant panda, a high endangered species, and their habitats, said Li Mingxi, an expert from the Chengdu Panda Base who has been involved in the researches on giant pandas.
"The giant pandas are immensely popular around the world, and they can be the leaders in raising people's awareness about conservation. This initiative is aimed to raise awareness about the threats facing the giant pandas and how each and everyone of us can contribute to the protection of the giant pandas and the conservation of their habitat and our nature," he said.
Li said the Chengdu Panda Base has started working on researches to prepare bred giant pandas for returning to wild after several decades of successful researches in their feeding and breeding.
"Eventually the aim of our work is to make the endangered species sustainable by returning some of the bred ones to the wild. Apart from the researches we are doing, we also need to get everyone involved to protect the environment because the biggest challenge for giant pandas is that their natural habitats became depleted and scattered, reducing the sizes of their gene pools," Li said.
There are now more than 300 bred giant pandas kept in conservation facilities and zoos around the world, including 114 at the Chengdu Panda Base. The population of the giant pandas in the wild are estimated to be around 1,600.