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'Elvis has left the building': Koi-eating otter believed to be gone from Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden

Last Updated Nov 29, 2018 at 10:22 pm PDT

Summary

Hundreds of baby koi were found in the Vancouver garden, as crews evacuated the fish due to a threat from a river otter

Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden executive director calls loss of 11 culturally significant koi an emotional loss

River otter believed to have left the tranquil garden in Vancouver's Chinatown

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – The valuable koi fish will not be returned to the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden in Vancouver’s Chinatown neighbourhood until the pond where they live is otter-proofed.

Staff at the garden believe a river otter that migrated from False Creek and ate 11 koi — including a 50-year-old fish named “Madonna” — has left.

‘We feel that Elvis has left the building,” Howard Normann with the Park Board said. “He or she is no longer in sight. We have removed our traps and removed the koi.”

Crews conducting a koi rescue operation at the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden (Source: Twitter/@vangarden)

The Park Board adds hundreds of baby koi were found on Wednesday. The fish are being housed at the Vancouver Aquarium.

“It looks like the large koi were spawning. There were 344 baby koi taken out of the pond, which was surprising for us.”

Crews are installing some new features at the garden including doors that automatically close.

“We’re putting a plate along the bottom to prevent the otter or any of the otter’s friends from re-visiting the garden,” Normann said, who adds small cameras will also be set up around the pond.

“We’ll see what the movement is like — if the otter returns or not. If it doesn’t, I would guess over a period of several months, we’ll make the decision to put the koi back in the pond. Probably not until the spring.”

Staff figure the otter snuck in and out at night, but how it managed to do it remains a mystery.

Normann points out there is already limited access to the garden, with 20-foot walls around it. “How the otter figured this place out, we’re still not sure.”

RELATED: Otter dines on more prized koi in Vancouver garden; continues to evade capture

Six traps were set up at the garden, baited with things like fresh trout, tuna, and chicken. But despite the delicious treats, the otter continued to evade capture.

“The animal relocater — the trapper — did explain to me that an otter does like to get its own food. It actually likes to catch the fish or whatever it happens to be feeding on,” Normann said.

The story of the river otter has generated a lot of public attention, with many people on #OtterWatch2018. Other people have been taking sides — #TeamOtter or #TeamKoi.

“What we feel is the attention and various support that we got from the community is a sign that the garden is well-loved and well-supported by many across Canada,” Garden executive director Vincent Kwan said.

RELATED: Are you #TeamOtter or #TeamKoi?

He calls the deaths of the 11 koi an emotional loss.

The koi, they are very important as decorative elements in the garden. But going beyond being beautiful, they do have value and significance from a cultural perspective, especially in the context of Chinese culture. I’d also like to see this process bring greater awareness about animals, preservation, and the cultural meanings behind elements like the koi.”

Kwan says the importance of the koi goes back thousands of years.

“They have symbolic representations that tie to things that are related to perseverance, transformation, happiness — things that are very abstract, but they are elements that are ingrained in the Chinese culture. A lot of people in the Chinese community do find the koi to have very important fundamental and symbolic significance.”

After a week-long closure the garden re-opened to the public on Thursday.

“The public is welcome to look around and if they happen to spot the otter, take a photo — send it to us,” Normann said.

Should the otter return, the otter would likely be left alone.

“There’s no more food source, as far as fish in the pond. So, I would assume we would probably just leave it on its own, if it happens to still be here.

 – With files from Lasia Kretzel