Staff evacuate koi from Dr. Sun Yat-Sen garden after deadly otter returns
VANCOUVER – Nearly one year after a voracious otter feasted on prized koi at the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden in Chinatown, an otter has been spotted in the garden again.
"I can't confirm if it was the same otter, but it was definitely an otter," said Howard Normann, the parks director with the Vancouver Park Board.
Normann said the park board was first notified about a dead koi on Tuesday. The following day, a wildlife expert actually saw the otter, and surveillance footage captured the elusive creature on camera.
But what remains a mystery is how the otter got into the garden in the first place.
"To be quite frank, we don't know what the otter is capable of. I'm told they can climb three to four feet," Normann said. "It probably climbed over one of those gates, or if one of the gates were left ajar and it snuck in that way -- that's the only way we can see it."
An otter wreaked havoc at the pond last fall as it stalked koi and killed 11 fish. Efforts to catch the otter were not successful, but garden and park board staff made changes to places where the otter could get in or out.
After the ordeal, garden staff introduced more koi to the pond, including some baby fish. Like last time, the otter has an insatiable appetite for the valuable fish.
So far this year, six adult koi were eaten.
"I think for us in Chinatown, it is disheartening because it was such a big loss for the community," said Kevin Huang, the executive director of Hua Foundation, a non-profit in Chinatown.
Huang said koi has important cultural significance for several Asian cultures: the koi symbolizes perseverance and strength.
He said no one begrudges the park board for not catching the otter last year.
"It's a wild animal, what can we do?" he quipped. "It's notable that we did not trap the otter last time and it left because we removed the food source, which were the koi … I'm thinking it's come back to where it knows there was food this time last year."
Last year, the park board waited 10 days before the koi were taken away to the Vancouver Aquarium. Normann said their experience last year allowed them to act more quickly this time around. Staff have also set up live traps near the pond in hopes of catching the otter.
"We were able to react much faster because we had a good idea of what would happen. Within two days, we had the same nets in the pond," he said.
Staff members have lowered the water level in the pond to remove eight big koi and an estimated 150 smaller koi, which the park board said are being temporarily placed with a koi expert in Richmond. Six live traps have been placed in the garden to try and capture the hungry otter.
The Dr. Sun Yet-Sen Classical Chinese Garden is expected to be fully open Sunday.