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Papers: Courts block financing for panda pen

The Administrative Court of Vaasa has blocked the financing for construction of a facility for giant pandas at Ähtäri Zoo in western Finland, according to several media reports. The funding guarantee for the panda building - worth some 8.2 million euros - was approved by the municipality of Ähtäri, which owns the zoo. The pandas were promised by Chinese President Xi Jinping during his visit to Finland this week.

Ähtäri Zoon Pandatalon työmaata 5.4.2017
Construction site of Ähtäri Zoo's planned panda facility. Photo taken April 5, 2017. Image: Antti Kettumäki/Yle

Several newspapers report that funding for the construction of a facility for giant pandas at Ähtäri Zoo has been blocked by the Administrative Court of Vaasa after a local man appealed the town's decision to fund the 8.2 million euro project. Financing is now on hold pending the municipality's appeal.

The pandas are due to arrive at the end of this year following intense 'panda diplomacy' efforts around President Xi Jinping's visit to Finland this week, on his way to Mar-a-Lago in Florida to meet US President Donald Trump.

The man who sued the council, 68-year-old Olli Sahimäki, said he wanted to keep the town from wasting taxpayers' money. He told Ilta-Sanomat he was scared the town's economy would fall apart due to the panda project.

On Wednesday it was announced that China would loan Finland two giant pandas for 15 years, while Chinese President Xi Jinping and his delegation were on an official visit to Finland.

The plans include housing the pandas at the municipally-owned Ähtäri Zoo, and that the pandas would arrive by the end of this year.

"Town too small"

Sahimäki told Ilta-Sanomat that Ähtäri, with its 6,000 inhabitants, is too small to accommodate the number of tourists the pandas could bring. He was critical of the town's infrastructure as well, noting there is no nearby airport and that passenger trains stop in the town once or twice a day.

Sahimäki told the paper he didn't think the pandas would attract enough tourists for the venture to be successful in Ähtäri. He also said that a suggestion to house the pandas at Korkeasaari Zoo in Helsinki was made earlier, but that the zoo declined due to the high costs.

He said that if the pandas do come, their keep should be financed with private, not public funds.

It has not yet been revealed how much Finland plans to spend to accommodate the pandas during their stay.

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