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Koi returned to Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden pond

Last Updated May 9, 2019 at 12:06 pm PST

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Six months after a river otter forced them out of their home, more than 300 koi fish have been released back into the pond at Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden.

The otter, which was never captured, killed 11 of the prized fish last fall. The remaining koi were transferred to the Vancouver Aquarium.

Howard Norman, Director of Parks, says there are new measures to make sure a similar situation doesn’t happen again.

“We’ve fortified the gates, we’ve raised them with metal sheeting so that the otter couldn’t climb over the top of it. We also have hinges on the gates to keep them closed.”

Norman says a biologist has visited the garden “at least six times” to search for the otter.

“We’ve had our own staff go through the water system to make sure there’s no access points for an otter to come, say, out of a pipe — which we thought, originally, might have been a possibility. So other than the gates, there’s no way in for the otter.”

He adds the city is working with staff at the garden to monitor the site daily. Visitors are also asked to report any sightings of a rogue otter.

The oldest koi was estimated to be about 50 years old. Norman notes last winter was the first time an otter was reported as being in the garden.


The otter was first spotted near Chinatown on Nov. 15. The saga to catch the animal went viral, with many people choosing sides and cheering for either #TeamOtter or #TeamKoi. Some even began selling buttons depicting the two animals, with proceeds going towards the garden.

Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden staff say they’ve been getting a lot of calls about the koi and are happy the fish are now living in their rightful place.

“Absolutely ecstatic, thrilled,” Debbie Cheung with the garden says. “It has been a long journey, it’s almost six months. It put me in tears a couple of times through this process.”

On whether she’s worried another otter might make it’s way back into the garden, Cheung admits there are some things they just can’t control.

“It’s an ecosystem on its own,” she says. “There’s a lot of natural predators.”

Cheung is hopeful the new, reinforced gates and high walls will prevent another otter from sneaking in.

Vancouver Aquarium staff happy to help

Koi are temperate, fresh water fish — a species the Vancouver Aquarium doesn’t have a lot of, Curator of Fishes Lee Newman explains.

He says it was “fun to get back into some cold-water fish.”

“Koi are pretty to look at, so that was kind of neat,” he adds. “It wasn’t a huge burden in any sense, it was just one additional holding tank that we had full of water for these guys, so it worked really well.”

With more than 300 juvenile koi in the Aquarium’s care, Newman says every single one was counted when they were transferred to and from the holding tank. He notes it’s an important part of the work.

“It’s sort of hard to see them go, sort of not,” he admits. “I think their rightful place is back here in the pond, and it’s good to see that too, good to see them go back to lots of space and outside.”