Chinese firm takes 21% stake in SeaWorld for $429 million
Chinese real estate investment firm Zhonghong Zhuoye announced that it has become the largest shareholder in SeaWorld and intends to import the US company's controversial theme parks into China.
Zhonghong Zhuoye said in a statement that it will buy a 21% stake in SeaWorld Entertainment, whose shows featuring killer whales have been slammed by animal rights groups.
The Chinese firm bought its stake from Blackstone at a price of USD 23 per share, with the transaction expected to be worth approximately USD 429 million.
The purchase, which is expected to be finalised in the second quarter, will make Zhonghong the largest shareholder in SeaWorld, with the possibility of raising its stake to 24.9%.
The deal will provide Zhonghong with exclusive rights to develop theme parks in mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao, SeaWorld said in a separate statement.
Founded in 1959, SeaWorld Entertainment is the operator of twelve parks across the United States, including three amusement parks called SeaWorld dedicated to marine attractions, with killer whale and dolphin shows.
But their reputation has been tainted by several scandals and by the fierce opposition of environmental organisations.
In 2010, a killer whale grabbed the ponytail of Dawn Brancheau, a SeaWorld trainer, and dragged her underwater to her death in front of horrified onlookers at the end of a show at SeaWorld Orlando.
Animal rights groups charge that killer whales were kept in tanks that are too small, fed improper diets and forced to perform tricks.
However, under public pressure, SeaWorld last March announced it would stop breeding killer whales, and would no longer keep any of them in captivity after its current generation dies.
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