When some university students took to the streets of Mong Kok earlier this year to do the panda dance, it wasn't part of an orientation camp. They were promoting Panda Action 2012, a program launched by the Ocean Park Conservation Foundation Hong Kong to improve the lot of the giant panda in Asia.
In April, the foundation sent 23 handpicked students from the Hong Kong Institute of Education and Hong Kong Baptist University to Shaanxi province so they could help educate the public about the Qinling panda, a subspecies of the giant panda.
The foundation has stepped up its education campaign through street ads in Hong Kong and the mainland, and also on social networks such as Facebook.
Timothy Ng Sau-kin, deputy director of the foundation, said it is not just about conserving the pandas but protecting their habitat as well. "Animals represent biodiversity."
Ng explained that the management at the mainland reserves is good at keeping an eye on the land and watching for illegal poaching, but they do not have enough of the type of education programs that Ocean Park provides.
"This program helps build skills," he said. "Students get to spend 10-14 days in the field for firsthand experience as researchers, and this gives them a chance to practice what they learned from lectures and textbooks."
Shaanxi province is home to the giant panda. As of 2004, their population was less than 1,600.
Their habitat is located in the Yangtze River Basin eco-region, which is critical for biodiversity conservation. It is now on the verge of shrinking due to dramatic climate changes. It is also at risk as the government continues to build more roads and railways.
With training and Putonghua practice, the group of aspiring teachers from HKIEd was able to educate 1,100 primary students in Shaanxi about the situation of the pandas and of other endangered animals.
"The students' response to our activities was my favorite part," said Fish Yau Cheong-ho, 22, who majors in global and environmental studies at HKIEd.
"We did puppet shows, singing, dancing and drama, which they all loved."
While the HKIEd team covered teaching, the group of communications majors from Baptist University took care of public relations and advertising. They were able to use Siu Hak's Deaf Cat, a popular cartoon strip, to promote the campaign, while singer-songwriter Brian Wong composed the theme song for Panda Action.
"We wanted to get the right students from the right schools," Ng said. "So we chose HKIEd for their good teachers and HKBU for their good communications program."
Ng said they were overwhelmed by all the applications they received and were pleased that so many showed interest in the program.
Apart from conservation, research and education, the foundation conducts several activities such as earthquake rebuilding and fund-raising. It also supports about 30 other endangered species, including the finless porpoise and Indo-Chinese tiger.
"It's so important to build environmental awareness, especially in the mainland," Yau said.
"This program taught me that you can learn a lot more by getting out there and doing something, rather than simply relying on textbooks and sitting in lectures."