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Otter full on prized fish gets away as security tightened at Vancouver garden

A man looks for a missing koi named Madonna at the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, which was reopened after being closed when a river otter took up residence in the garden and ate numerous valuable koi fish, in Vancouver on Thursday, Nov. 29, 2018.
Image Credit: CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
November 30, 2018 - 7:00 AM

VANCOUVER - An otter that dined on prized fish at a classical Chinese garden in downtown Vancouver seems to have dashed as the facility takes steps to ensure the unwelcome critter doesn't come back.

Howard Normann, director of park operations for the city, said automatic closers will be installed on two gates and plates attached to the bottom of them so the river otter can't return to Dr. Sun-Yat Sen Classical Chinese Garden.

Two surveillance cameras will also be placed around a pond that was home to the garden's collection of decorative koi, Normann told a news conference at the garden Thursday, when the facility reopened to the public after closing on Nov. 20.

That's after staff began noticing koi carcasses near the pond and visitors spotted an otter on the scene.

Traps baited with raw chicken and salmon were set up but the otter made off with the food without getting caught.

Six more traps that included fresh trout were left untouched, Normann.

The otter ate 11 koi and hasn't been seen since Saturday. The oldest fish was named Madonna and estimated to be 50 years old.

"Madonna's no longer with us," Normann said, adding the three remaining koi and 344 juvenile fish have been scooped out of the pond and placed at the Vancouver Aquarium.

The garden has not yet decided when the koi will be returned to the pond, but Normann said that may not happen until next spring.
It's believed the otter showed up in the dead of night by squeezing through the bottom of a gate and headed for the koi, which were donated by the Korean pavilion after Expo 86, he said.

Otters are creatures of habit and hone in on a food source so the wily visitor is likely to return but would leave once realizing there's nothing to eat, Normann said.

Vincent Kwan, executive director of the garden, said staff had become attached to the koi, which symbolize perseverance, transformation and happiness in Chinese culture.

"It goes back many thousands of years from legends' perspective," he said. "They are elements that are ingrained in Chinese culture."

Madonna's fans are particularly sad, he said.

"Everyone in the community knows Madonna," he said. "I think a lot of people are still trying to digest what has happened and it's certainly very emotional."

Kwan said the garden is trying to see the "silver lining" in the whole situation, including a greater awareness of koi and the garden, the only one of its kind outside China.

"Let's not forget about the otter," he said. "They are an important part of Vancouver and are well loved."

Kwan said he has nothing against the otter.

"They are part of the environment of Vancouver, and as much as they might have done something that we might feel sad about, it's what they do. I'd just say 'Hi!' "

Nick Page, biologist with the Vancouver Park Board, said otters are a key part of the urban landscape in Vancouver.

"What's unusual in this circumstance is that this otter came a few hundred meters from the shores of False Creek into Chinatown and found this specific resource in the pond," he said as construction workers welded bars onto a gate to fill in gaps.

He suggested a Not Welcome sign in "otter speak" be installed there as well.

— Follow @CamilleBains1 on Twitter.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2018
The Canadian Press

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