Conservation fan is a 'pambassador' for life

Updated: 2012-10-19 11:19

By Wang Bowen (China Daily)

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Ashley Robertson is planning to revisit China's Sichuan province to see Qiqi, a female panda cub that has grown stronger since the young American left the Chengdu Panda Base two years ago.

Conservation fan is a 'pambassador' for life

Washington: Ashley Robertson plays with Qiqi, a female panda cub she took care of when she was in Chengdu Panda Base two years ago. Provided to China Daily

"I've missed her so much and I've always wanted to go back to China," Robertson told China Daily.

She was one of six finalists chosen from among 60,000 conservation activists who had applied to become a "pambassador" - a caretaker in Chengdu for a month in 2010.

The global contest, designed to find people to care for giant pandas and spread conservation messages about the much-loved but endangered animal, was organized by the Chengdu base. The organization was started with six giant pandas rescued from the wild in 1987. By 2008, it had recorded 124 panda births, and its current roster of captive pandas stands at 83.

Robertson trained for five weeks in the capital of Sichuan, southwestern China, in all aspects of panda care. Her job as a pambassador was to look after Qiqi, a year-old cub so named because her birth weight was only 77 grams, a number that sounds similar to "qiqi" in Chinese.

"I love Qiqi - she is so beautiful, sweet and calm. And I feel special to have seen her grow at a young age," said Robertson.

Each day of her stay, Robertson cleaned Qiqi's enclosure, prepared bamboo, and observed and recorded the cub's behavior under the tutelage of panda experts at the base.

"My favorite part of the job was to play with Qiqi and her roommates," the Florida resident recalled with a smile.

They would run around together, chase each other and take a dip in the water. "She's so playful," Robertson said.

"I have been a panda lover since I was little," said the one-time caretaker, whose couch at home is covered by panda dolls and trinkets. Five years ago she rescued and mixed-breed dog and named him Panda because his black-and-white fur reminded her of pandas' two-tone color scheme.

With degrees in marketing and photography, Robertson is looking to launch a career that combines her skills behind the lens with wildlife conservation.

This year she volunteered to help the 2012 Chengdu Pambassador program.

"Life as an ambassador is the most rewarding experience I've ever had. I want to give back as much as I can," said Robertson. "Anything the Chengdu base asks of me, I would be willing to give my time to do it. They gave me a bigger gift more than anything in the world."

China Daily