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Finland to review panda financing

Caring for two giant pandas costs Ähtäri Zoo around 1.5 million euros annually.

Panda syö bambua Ähtärin eläinpuistossa.
One of the pandas at Ähtäri Zoo, a city-owned company. Image: Birgitta Vuorela / Yle
Yle News

Two giant pandas lent by China to Finland five years ago are causing controversy as Ähtäri, a city-owned zoo, struggles to pay for their care.

Agriculture Minister Antti Kurvinen (Centre) on Wednesday took to Twitter to say that his ministry was not going ahead with a plan to earmark five million euros to support the pandas at Ähtäri Zoo in South Ostrobothnia.

"A working group will look into the future of the leased pandas as the matter has to be resolved soon in one way or another," Kurvinen tweeted on Wednesday.

The pandas rose to the news agenda in Finland this week after Yle reported that the Finance Ministry was looking to set aside five million euros to turn the loss-making panda zoo into a foundation.

In 2021, Ähtäri's mayor said the pandas may have to be returned to China as the zoo had run into financial problems exacerbated by visitor numbers dropping during the pandemic. Keeping the creatures costs the facility about 1.5 million euros annually.

The Agriculture Ministry said Ähtäri Zoo owes China money as the facility has not been able to service an annual 'breeding loan' that was a part of the deal.

The two giant pandas arrived in Finland after a state visit to Finland by Chinese president Xi Jinping in 2017. During the visit Finland also committed to the 'one China' policy, meaning that Finland officially recognises the People's Republic of China—not Taiwan.

Giant pandas Lumi and Pyry (officially Jin Baobao and Hua Bao) arrived at Ähtäri Zoo in early 2018.

Edited to reflect that maintenance costs of the giant pandas amount to 1.5 million euros.

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