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Ähtäri Zoo

The Ähtäri Zoo was first opened on June 17, 1973, and it is the oldest natural environment zoo in Finland. The zoo was founded based on Mayor Väinö Jaakola’s initiative, and the park’s first animal was a moose named Köpi. Today, the zoo is home to over 50 animal species, with bears as the park’s best-known attraction. Most of the animals are typically found in boreal forests in the wild. Since the beginning, Ähtäri Zoo has aimed to build spacious and natural living environments for the animals. This is why the park mostly hosts animals that are a found in boreal forests on the Northern Hemisphere. The 60-hectare area with its varying terrains and vegetation has provided a wonderful setting for realizing EAZA’s (the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria) main principles of how animals should be treated in captivity. Furthermore, one of the most important goals for zoos is to help people learn more about animals and nature and to distribute educational information.

International animal conservation is an essential part of what zoos do. Zoos aim to maintain or grow the populations of endangered species and to preserve their genomes. Through cooperation, zoos around the world have managed to save a large number of species that would have otherwise become extinct. The European mink is a good example of a species that is extinct in the Finnish wilderness, but the Ähtäri Zoo is the first place to get these animals to reproduce.

In practice, international cooperation means, for example, animal transfers between zoos. In Europe, animals are transferred between EAZA’s member zoos. Through these transfers and ongoing research, zoos all around Europe and the world maintain healthy animal populations.

A significant part of the Ähtäri Zoo’s conservation work and work in general is to guide and teach people. Above everything else, the goal is to get people to appreciate species whose genomes date back more than a thousand years.


Ähtäri Zoo is involved in the WildForestReindeerLIFE project, which the central aim is reintroduce wild forest reindeer to their native habitat in southern Suomenselkä in Finland. The forest reindeer is original species in Finland, but it was hunted to extinction in the late 1900th century. Small forest reindeer population continued to live in Russian Karelia. Some individuals began to come across the Finnish side and started new population in the 1950s. Today, there are approximately two thousand wild forest reindeers in Finland.

WildForestReindeerLIFE project aims to strengthen the natural forest reindeer population by releasing individuals back to the nature after on-site enclosure period. Forest reindeer will be reintroduced into the Lauhanvuori and Seitseminen National Parks. In the on-site enclosures, animals practice how to survive in the wild and they are safe from predators. Zoos play an important role in the project, because almost all the individuals that will be transfer to the on-site enclosures, are born mainly in zoos.

During the year 2019, the first wild forest reindeers will be released to the nature. After a five-year period of enclosure period, it is hoped that some tens of wild forest reindeer individuals will be living by the vicinity of both national parks, with both populations experiencing steady growth. The project will also strengthen small forest reindeer population in Karstula, Ähtäri. WildForestReindeerLIFE is a seven-year project (years 2016–2023). In addition to the reintroductions, the project will, for example, restore the habitats of forest reindeers.

More information: www.suomenpeura.fi/en


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