One koi rescued, three remain at Dr. Sun Yat-Sen garden as otter continues to evade capture

Vancouver Park Board plans to lower the water level in the pond to help rescue remaining koi

It’s been over a week and the elusive river otter eating the koi at Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden is still on the loose.

Over the weekend several more koi were lost — a total of 10 of the 14 resident fish are gone — and garden staff has been attempting to rescue the remaining koi. After several hours on Saturday staff was able to rescue one koi, which was transported to Vancouver Aquarium for safe keeping until the otter is caught.

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Deanna Chan, communications and community engagement assistant at the garden, said Tuesday that staff has not yet been able to confirm if Madonna, the most famous of the garden’s koi that is more than 50 years old, is still alive.

“At this point we’re still hopeful,” Chan said.

To the staff and the many regular visitors to Dr. Sun Yat-Sen, the koi are more than just fish.

“They’re cultural treasures,” Chan said, adding that koi symbolize abundance and good fortune, and, like many features of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen, the inclusion of the koi is modeled after the scholar’s gardens of the Ming Dynasty.

“They’re very special fish,” she said.

Chan said the loss of the koi over the last week has been difficult for staff.

“It’s quite sad,” she said, adding that because many of the koi have been living at the garden for decades, some since it opened in 1986, “they really become part of the family, part of the team.”

In an effort to rescue the remaining koi in the pond, the water level is being lowered. On Tuesday, park board staff were opening the drains at the garden to lower the water level after heavy rain on Monday.

“Unfortunately, as our pond is quite large, draining it is not optimal, as it may induce further stress on our koi and make it easier for predators to catch them as the water level sinks,” the garden said on Friday in a statement posted on Twitter. “Koi are highly sensitive to changes in their environment, and we are looking at all the options to ensure their well-being.”

The otter was first spotted in the garden on Nov. 18. Park board staff set out three traps in an effort to trap and relocate the animal but the otter managed to take the bait and evade capture.

“The otter did visit our trap and took our fish and our tuna and our chicken. Unfortunately a small jam… prevented the trap from closing,” Howard Normann, director of parks, said Friday.

After several days and no luck capturing the otter, the park board announced Friday it was calling in an animal relocation expert who specializes in dealing with animals like otters, mink and raccoons.

“They’ll be setting up a network of traps,” Normann told reporters. “They’re quite confident if we’ve already had a positive experience with this otter visiting the traps that they’ll be able to capture the otter….”


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