In 2005 Susan Boyard, President of Operations for SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, gathered members of the press together on an open stretch of land in eastern Pakistan.
“We are pleased to announce the official establishment of our newest SeaWorld franchise, right here in sunny Karachi. We expect that residents of Pakistan will travel far to see nature at its most thrilling. Especially for inland residents, the chance to see such large quantities of water is very exciting – not to mention all the fabulous creatures that live within those pools, of course.”
Five years later, amid stories of devastating floods to the west and millions of displaced people in need of emergency aid, the Pakistani branch of the well-known theme park has opened its doors. Dozens of exotic marine animals were imported from around the globe as scheduled, but revenue has been much lower than forecast. Industry analysts are puzzled as to why attendance at the park, which celebrates the wonders to be found in vast expanses of water, is doing so poorly. Many, however, blame the Pakistani government.
Parliament seems unable to deal with the floods’ fallout, including 1,700 people dead and the shipping delay of several live SeaWorld exhibits. Making political matters worse, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has come under intense criticism from all spheres for taking a trip to Europe in the midst of the floods. Speaking from a London hotel room, President Zardari defended himself.
“The nations I visited have promised hundreds of millions of dollars to rebuild the country,” he said as he snuggled into a terrycloth bathrobe. “And Nicholas Sarkozy promised to send a manatee, which is even better. People think I’m not looking out for Pakistan, but I have my priorities very clear in my mind. The one thing I never forget, no matter where I am, is Pakistan’s well-being. And how awesome it will be to see all those dolphins doing their tricks. So two things, I suppose.”
Dr. Salim Junaid Ahmad, director of the National Centre of Maritime Policy Research at Bahria University in Islamabad, has called for reasonable discourse about the matter.
“It’s an odd problem, but one that can surely be overcome,” he said in an interview. “People seem to care about things other than pleasure trips right now, though I could not tell you what they might be. There are people sitting along the roads wherever you go in central Pakistan. Perhaps if we provided bussing, they would be more willing to come see the orca shows. It is difficult to say.”
Even in the midst of the flooding, the aquatic park has seen a steady stream of visitors. Unfortunately, it has not been anywhere near the level necessary to turn a profit. Bernadette Rosings, a spokeswoman for the company, is optimistic.
“True, the revenue has not been up to our other parks’ standards so far. But I think that will change once the word gets around that we’ve set up shop here in Karachi. And with residents fleeing ever farther from their destroyed homes in central Pakistan, it’s only a matter of time until they start setting up tent cities here on the coast. And when they do, SeaWorld will be waiting with open arms to meet all of their entertainment needs. Plus our bottled water, which they can purchase for a reasonable price at any concession stand, is 98 percent guaranteed to be cholera free.”
A stroll through SeaWorld’s exhibits seems to indicate that Ms. Rosings is on to something. Like the parks in the United States, Pakistan’s newest entertainment installation features friendly staff and well-tended greenery. It creates a pleasant and peaceful atmosphere for the hundreds of desperate, homeless parents and their emaciated young ones looking to shelter from the elements. And just like parks in the U.S., small piping voices can be heard wherever you go, practically chirping with delight at the natural wonders around them: “Look, mother, it’s Shamu! Do you think we could eat him?”S