The Scottish Government spent almost £43,000 on a "welcome party" for the UK's only pair of giant pandas.
Tian Tian and Yang Guang - the first giant pandas to live in the UK for 17 years - arrived at Edinburgh Zoo a month ago.
The Captive Animals' Protection Society (Caps) said the Scottish Government had spent £42,722 on the arrival event for the two animals and associated marketing costs.
The charity, which campaigns against animal captivity in zoos, uncovered the cost using Freedom of Information legislation.
But it said ministers had previously stated the Government expected funding for the pandas to "come from commercial sponsorship and other revenue sources".
Caps director Liz Tyson said: "We were pleased when we heard that taxpayers' money would not be used to fund the new panda exhibit as we believe it is both unethical and, importantly, will not make any relevant contribution to the conservation of this incredible species.
"The monetary contribution from the Scottish Government was reported in press to be 'small' but, in these times of austerity, it is difficult to see how the Government can justify spending nearly £43,000 on a welcome party for the two animals."
She added: "This, coupled with the fact that the deal has been regularly referred to as a 'gift' when it is, in fact, costing the zoo hundreds of thousands of pounds a year to lease the pandas just adds to the growing number of misleading statements being made on the deal which is, as the Scottish Government stated when the deal was first mooted, 'primarily a commercial transaction'."
A Scottish Government spokeswoman dismissed Caps' comments as "nonsense" and added: "The Scottish Government made a small financial contribution towards the cost of the arrival event in recognition of the fact that the pandas are a symbol of the great and growing friendship between Scotland and China.
"The arrival event also resulted in unprecedented coverage of Edinburgh Zoo and supported the positive promotion of Edinburgh and Scotland worldwide."
The money spent by the Scottish Government includes a grant of £12,900 offered to the Royal Zoological Society Scotland towards the arrival event, £23,000 on marketing links between Scotland and China in both countries and staff costs of £6822.
The Government spokeswoman said: "The pandas are also a fantastic opportunity to deepen the business, cultural and diplomatic ties between our two countries.
"Tian Tian and Yang Guang are already a huge hit with visitors and it's estimated they'll generate an additional £2m revenue per year for Edinburgh Zoo - benefiting Scottish tourism and the economy.
"We have also made it clear from the outset that the Scottish Government is not in a position to provide financial support for the ongoing costs associated with the pandas and we expect funding to come from commercial sponsorship and other revenue sources."
Tian Tian, whose name means "Sweetie", and Yang Guang, meaning "Sunshine", travelled to Scotland last month on a specially chartered flight dubbed the FedEx "Panda Express".
They were greeted by hundreds of well-wishers when they arrived at the zoo following their 5000-mile non-stop flight from China.
The eight-year-old breeding pair will stay in the capital for the next 10 years. It is hoped they will eventually produce cubs.
More than 10,000 people have already booked tickets to see the two creatures at the zoo.
When the pair arrived at the zoo, chief executive Hugh Roberts said it was "just the start of a 10-year project which will allow all of us to understand so much more about these fascinating animals".
He added: "We see the pandas as catalysts for research, education and conservation - aimed at improving the future for pandas."