Cover photo by Timo Ahopelto. www.ahtarizoo.fi
Going to the zoo might not be everyone’s idea of a typical winter activity. I recently made a visit to nearby Ähtäri Zoo, however, and discovered there’s plenty of life there all year round.
Here are a few ideas of things to do when you visit Ähtäri:
Photo: Ahtari Zoo Panda Lumi by Timo Ahopelto. www.ahtarizoo.fi
Meet the Snowpandas
The zoo has received a lot of publicity in the last year due to the arrival of two giant pandas from China in early-2018, They have been named Lumi and Pyry and together they have been re-branded as Snow Pandas. These are the most northerly located pandas in the world and Ähtäri zoo is, naturally, proud of these international guests. There is an additional cost but the opportunity to watch the pandas playing, eating and probably sleeping is well worth well worth taking.
They live in a purpose-built panda house which provides a fantastic viewing area where you can sit, relax and just watch the pandas doing their thing. The indoor panda enclosures have been designed to recreate the natural mountainous habitat of their native China. They also have complete access to their outside enclosure, which is also sloped and has trees they can climb and climbing frames because, according to the panda keeper, pandas love climbing.
In the wild in China the pandas live in snowy, mountainous habitats. There wasn’t much snow when I visited, but I was told that if you visit once the snow has arrived, you will see Lumi & Pyry fulfilling their role as Snowpandas. They love the snow and enjoy rolling in the snow, carrying it around and playing with the snowman their keeper builds for them.
Photo: Ahtari Zoo Karhu by Timo Ahopelto. www.ahtarizoo.fi
Take a Stroll Round the Zoo
So moving on from the panda house, you go out into the original part of the zoo. The collection Ähtäri Zoo has two elements to it: Scandinavian animals and Asian animals. Animals that come from a similar climate to Finland so they still feel relatively at home in Finland.
There are two tracks around the zoo, the main track three kilometers long will take around the whole zoo, and you will see all the animals. While walking around it doesn’t really feel like you’re in a zoo, it feels more like you’re strolling through the Finnish forest. Then every so often you come come upon the next animal enclosure. It is also noticeable is that the animals are housed in more open enclosures, that actually includes some of the woodland, so the animals can access an environment that is familiar to them.
The main attraction among these animals is the traditional brown bears, very symbolic of Finnish wildlife. It is well worth visiting in the springtime, once the bears are starting to come out of their winter hibernation and start to rediscover the outside world again. It features on national news that the bears have woken up and people come especially to see the sleepy bears take their first steps into the new year.
Photo: Ahtari Zoo Farmi Talo Talvi by Timo Ahopelto. www.ahtarizoo.fi
Meet the Animals at Farmi Petting Zoo
At the end of the track around the zoo, you come to Farmi, a small petting zoo. Once again there is a theme and in this case it is traditional Finnish farm animals, so you will find a collection of cows, sheep, goats and ponies. Maybe a Shetland pony is not exactly Finnish, but the Shetland Islands has a similar habitat to Finland, and children can take rides on the ponies. Farmi also has smaller animals like rabbits, chickens and ducks.
The focal point of this area is a red, wooden farmhouse, very traditional in the Etelä-Pohjanmaa region, which was transported here especially. Encircling the courtyard outside are the animal houses where the children can interact with the animals and hopefully learn about the animals, while also learning about the history of Finnish farming as well. For example, there is this traditional breed of Finnish dairy cow. This powerful beast is not widely used anymore, due to the amount of milk it produces, but they are very friendly, playful and well worth visiting at the end of your tour of Ähtäri Zoo.
Photo: Hotelli Mesikammen Kalliokaytava2 by Timo Ahopelto. www.ahtarizoo.fi
Rest & Relax in the Evening
The zoo is really the hub of this ever growing resort and within 100 meters of the zoo gates you will find several other activities. Flow Park is a tree top rope walking activity park, great for all the family although young kids will definitely need adult supervision and help to get across the ropes, bridges, nets and hanging barrels.
There is also Family Golf, a new, short golf course where you can play six holes of par three golf. It is not expensive either, 10€ for one round or 20€ for an unlimited day ticket is great value, and if you like to get out and swing your golf clubs in Finland, it’s not easy without a green card membership.
At the end of a long day, you could check into Hotel Mesikämmen, which was designed by famous Finnish architects Timo & Tuomas Suomalainen, and built down into the Ähtäri bedrock. It is located beside Lake Hankavesi so every room offers a lake view, there is an indoor spa plus easy access to the forest tracks for biking, running or skiing, depending on when you visit.