Workers load the boxes carrying a pair of Chinese giant pandas who have just arrived in Helsinki, Finland, on January 18, 2018. A pair of giant pandas have departed a panda base in Sichuan Province of China bound for Finland on a 15-year research project. (Xinhua/Matti Matikainen)
HELSINKI, Jan. 18 (Xinhua) -- Snowflakes swirled around the Helsinki-Vantaa International Airport on Thursday morning, as a crowd welcomed a pair of Chinese giant pandas eating bamboo inside two transparent glass boxes.
The boxes were drawn by a vehicle with 80 reporters and photographers documenting the proceedings as they were loaded onto a container truck to be transported 80 km further north to the Ahtari Zoo, where the couple will stay for 15 years.
The male, Hua Bao, and the female, Jin Baobao, are the first pair of Chinese giant pandas arriving in the Nordics. Jukka Salo, an expert of giant pandas from the Ahtari Zoo, said the zoo had made special preparations for the newcomers, including an installation that brings more sunshine during the long dark winter time.
Salo said he was relieved when he saw Hua Bao and Jin Baobao were in good condition after arriving at the airport. "What was the male doing? He was just eating bamboo happily," said Salo, adding that the female one was actively looking around, which is "always a good sign."
Salo was optimistic that the couple would quickly adapt to the zoo, which he believed is "the best place for giant pandas to live in the world" after their original habitat in China.
Finns have given the two Chinese guests Finnish nicknames "Pyry" and "Lumi", which mean "heavy snowfall" and "snow".
Coincidentally, heavy snow fell in Scandinavia prior to the arrival of the pandas, which "seems like a sign of welcome," said Chinese Ambassador to Finland Chen Li.
"Although Chinese people have seen giant pandas in their life, it is rare to see pandas playing with the snow, and pandas in snow will become a unique scene in the Ahtari Zoo," said Chen, adding that the arrival of the giant pandas would promote exchange of knowledge and ideas between the two peoples.
The fact that Finland received the first pair of giant pandas in the Nordic area signifies that mutual understanding between Finland and China has reached a very high level, said Finnish Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Jari Leppa.
Leppa said he hoped cooperative research on giant pandas at the Ahtari Zoo would foster more scientific, economic and cultural cooperation between experts, institutes and enterprises of Finland and China.
Representing the Chinese Forest Administration, its chief engineer Ma Guangren said more countries in the world were working with Chinese authorities on the protection and research of giant pandas.
Thanks to the efforts made in China and worldwide, the habitat of giant pandas in China has expanded to a size of 2.58 million hectares. Currently, a total of 1,864 giant pandas live in the wild and 518 are raised in captivity in China, he said.
Negotiations over the giant pandas between Finland and China started in 2015 and made good progress, said the Finnish Agriculture and Forest Ministry in a press release. Documents about the joint research on giant pandas in the Ahtari Zoo were confirmed in April 2017 when Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Finland.
An enormous panda house, spanning 10,000 sqm was built in 11 months in the Ahtari zoo to accommodate the animals. They will meet the public in late February during the Chinese spring festival.
It is anticipated that Hua Bao and Jin Baobao, both young and robust, will bear babies in the Finnish zoo. Any offspring will be sent back to China, according to the agreement between the two nations.