A struggling zoo in Finland said on Friday it might return two giant pandas on loan from China as it could no longer afford to keep them.
Five years ago, the male giant panda Hua Bao, also called Pyry (Finnish for snowstorm) and the female Jin Bao Bao, Lumi (snow), arrived at Ähtäri Zoo. The zoo hoped the giant pandas would bring visitors, but the coronavirus pandemic left them with debts.
In 2021, the government of Finland supported the zoo with 200,000 euros but declined a request for a 5 million euro ($5.4 million) grant. Members of parliament objected because the amount was higher than the amount spent yearly on protecting some of the country’s own endangered species.
The foreign ministry said it has set up a committee to seek a solution, but it cannot be certain one will be found.
“If the pandas were returned, we believe that China would understand it would be a business decision of a private company in a difficult financial situation,” a ministry spokesperson said. “We do not believe that this would have wider effects on the relations between Finland and China.”
The zoo in Finland said the final decision on whether the pandas will be returned would be made on February 28.
Giant pandas are among the world’s most beloved and recognizable animals. There are less than 1000 wild giant pandas left in the world, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). They are only found in the wild in China, where they live in nature reserves in the mountains and bamboo forests.
The primary threat to their survival is habitat loss, as their bamboo forest homes are being destroyed for development and agriculture.
Since 1950, China has been loaning pandas to foreign zoos, so-called panda diplomacy. Animal rights organizations have questioned the practice of ‘gifting animals’.