HELSINKI (Sputnik) – The Chinese Embassy in Finland began accepting donations to help support pandas in the Ahtari Zoo, the embassy’s spokesman told Sputnik on Saturday, citing Ambassador Chen Li.The pandas were gifted to the country by President Xi Jinping during his visit to Finland in 2017. The animals arrived in Helsinki in January 2018 and were then transported to the Ahtari Zoo, where a large pavilion was specially constructed for them. The pandas are in Finland on a 15-year lease.The zoo has been experiencing financial troubles lately as it suffered heavy losses due to the pandemic lockdown and a decrease in the number of visitors. Additionally, the maintenance of giant pandas is very expensive as they need at least 30 kilograms of fresh bamboo daily.China and Finland have reportedly signed two agreements on pandas, under one of which Finland is obligated to inform China about the animals’ condition. In November, Ahtari mayor said that the pandas’ upkeep costs the city around 1 million euros a year ($1.13 million) and the bears will have to be returned to China if the funding cannot be secured.”We have been briefed on the situation and immediately asked for help from Chinese companies and organizations operating in Finland on possible donations. Finland received the pandas from China as a valuable gift in honor of the 100th anniversary of independence. It would be very sad if the pandas were sent back after just four years. In fact, this has never happened before, and I do not want this to happen in Finland,” the spokesman said.The Chinese embassy also noted that it is hard to assess the possible damage to bilateral relations if the animals are returned, especially given the fact that the mascot of the upcoming Beijing Olympics is a snow-covered panda.
The embassy expects that the funding for the pandas will be collected by December 25.Only six zoos in the European Union — in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Spain, — have giant pandas. The animals are believed to be used by Beijing as a tool of diplomacy.