Forget kids! Why nanny for human offspring when you could be spending your time with baby panda cubs instead? A handful of organizations, including the Giant Panda Protection and Research Center in the Sichuan province of southwest China, actually employ a category of workers known as panda nannies, the primary responsibility of whom, as the job title suggests, is to play with painfully adorable panda cubs.
(Photo Credit: kuromeri/Flickr)
For this categorically un-arduous task, the GPPRC’s panda caretakers are compensated with an average annual salary of 200,000 yuan (approximately $32,500). According to China Daily, besides getting paid to play with panda bears, perks of the year-long role include gratis meals and accommodations, and a company SUV.
Caretaker applicants can hail from anywhere in the world, but must be at least 22 years of age, and have “some basic knowledge of pandas.” (What exactly this means is unclear.) Preference is also given to people with decent writing and photography skills, which are helpful for documenting the pandas’ behavior, first steps, lifestyle choices, etc.
Besides these stipulations, according to panda nanny recruiters, “Your work has only one mission: spending 365 days with the pandas and sharing in their joys and sorrows.” Sold!
The Panda Nanny Career Landscape
(Photo Credit: fortherock/Flickr)
Unfortunately, panda nanny gigs are hard to come by. (Is anyone surprised?) Because pandas are shy and independent by nature, a role that allows for direct contact is rare, as of course are the animals themselves, with only an estimated 1,600 pandas currently left in the wild.
According to the Smithsonian National Zoological Park, an ever smaller number live in captivity in the United States, where only a handful of zoos house giant pandas (The National Zoo in Washington, D.C., the Memphis Zoo in Tennessee, the San Diego Zoo in California, and Zoo Atlanta in Georgia).
Giant pandas are also pricey. The U.S. is required to settle a $550,000 running annual tab for each pair of pandas living in America, according to National Geographic. (The money goes towards Chinese giant panda reserves’ conservation efforts).
Competition Is Fierce
Given the scarcity both of pandas and panda-related positions, competition is predictably fierce. As one of the most well known panda conservation centers in the world, the GPPRC caused a frenzy last summer when it launched a worldwide recruitment campaign for panda caretakers to join in its panda care-taking, breeding, and overall conservation efforts. The organization reportedly received over 100,000 applications within only two months of posting a job listing aptly titled, “Most FUN job,” which consequently caused its website to crash.
Though panda nannies are often volunteers from Japan, Europe, and the United States, according to Heng Yi, a CCRCGP spokesperson, the panda center began casting a worldwide net for compensated caretaker positions several years back in an effort to increase global awareness about the animal.
“Many people at our center do the same job, but the salary was never that high,” Yi told China Daily of the now paid positions. “(W)e want more people to pay attention to giant pandas’ protection work and participate.”
Open slots at other panda organizations are similarly sought after. Over just a two-month period in 2010, the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding received 61,600 applications from more than 52 countries just for a shot at one of six caretaker positions that were unpaid and lasted only one month.
Before the final six “Pambassadors” were selected,12 semi-finalists underwent a rigorous competition that included taking lessons about panda science, care and conservation, and completing practical training at the Chengdu Panda Base such making panda meals, building panda exercise ladders, and weighing panda poop. The winning “Pambassadors” were then selected after completing “an intense three-hour live showdown” on China’s largest TV network, CCTV.
(Video Credit: CCTV News/YouTube )
In spite of the highly competitive job market (and clearly significant relocation commitment), the only identifiable con to being a panda nanny appears to be a willingness to eat less interesting food:
“You need perseverance for this job,” said Ye Mingxin, a Ford Motor Co. executive who served as a co-organizer of the center’s 2014 recruitment campaign. (Interestingly, the Ford logo appears on the GPPRC website, but an investigation as to why ended before it began due to the fact that the site is written entirely in Chinese.)
“We expect that the applicants will be mainly white-collar workers from big cities,” Mingxin explained. “They are used to eating whatever they want, but inside the giant panda base, the choices will not be plentiful.”
Given that a panda nanny’s charges subsist 99 percent on bamboo, which seems fairly limiting in terms of taste bud stimulation, sacrificing a little culinary diversity in exchange for a career’s worth of paid panda playdates doesn’t seem too high a cost.
Unfortunately the GPPRC doesn’t appear to be currently hiring, but that doesn’t mean it won’t in the future, and there are multiple other organizations and zoos, like the National in D.C., that sometimes accept panda caretakers on a paid or volunteer basis.
For those interested in working with animals but less interested in relocating to another continent, check out this list of other animal-related careers compiled by the Smithsonian.
And, if you’d prefer to experience panda-nannying vicariously rather than directly, look no further than the Smithsonian’s “Panda Cam.”
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