Vancouver Picks Sides: Are You Team Otter Or Team Koi?

Vancouver Picks Sides: Are You Team Otter Or Team Koi?
Koi clearout underway as voracious Chinatown otter proves elusive
Garden officials have ordered an evacuation of Chinatown koi after a hungry river otter claimed its 10th victim over the weekend.

According to a Vancouver park board spokesperson, a total of 10 expensive koi fish have now been killed and eaten by the otter as of Sunday morning; there were previously 14 adult koi living in the ponds at Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Park in Chinatown.

VANCOUVER, B.C.: NOV. 24, 2018 – Staff at Vancouver Chinatowns Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden are pictured on Saturday, Nov. 24, 2018 attempting to capture and relocate one of four remaining koi fish. The gardens koi have been under attack from a hungry river otter who moved into the garden earlier this month. DR. SUN YAT-SEN GARDEN / TWITTER / PNG

Lapprend isn’t sure whether “Team Koi” or “Team Otter” is prevailing because the buttons designed by artist Pearl Low are so cute that people are willing to betray their loyalty to buy one bearing the opposing team’s mascot, he said.

As a result, staff at the Chinatown park have begun evacuating koi from the park’s ponds. On Saturday, crews moved in to attempt a rescue of the remaining koi.

“I think there’s a comedy aspect to it, because every day the park board staff will set up new traps and every morning, they have to publicly announce the otter visited the traps, ate all the bait, and didn’t trigger anything,” he said.

So far, only one fish has been moved to the Vancouver Aquarium for safekeeping; koi are also difficult to capture so it remains unclear how long the evacuation will take though crews are working to relocate the remaining three fish. The one relocated koi took “several hours” to capture on Saturday, due to poor visibility in the water.

Lapprend said people appear to be fascinated by the story in part because it’s a battle of wits similar to a Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner cartoon, in which the coyote can never quite catch his prey despite trying increasingly ridiculous schemes.

A river otter that has made it into the Dr. Sun Yat-sen Classical Chinese Garden is devouring the parks huge koi. Nikki Bennett / PNG

The evacuation comes after an expert trapper was brought in late last week in an attempt to relocate the otter. Officials had been hoping to avoid relocating the koi, as draining the pond and moving the fish could cause stress and possible damage.

It’s still unclear how the otter found the garden, which is surrounded by busy streets, but a resident recently contacted Normann to report the critter may have been living in a nearby park between the Sun Yat-Sen garden and False Creek.

But after the otter was able to evade a set trap, stealing the bait and prancing off unscathed, officials are now forced to move the remaining koi.

He’s selling the buttons out of the group’s office and expects to have online sales ready on Sunday. The first small batch is already close to selling out and he’s placed a larger order that should come in soon, he said.

It remains unclear exactly when and where the otter moved into the park earlier this month though its den has been located at the east end of the park. The park remains closed to the public until the otter can be relocated to the Fraser Valley, where it will be able to feast on salmon.

The Garden will remain closed tomorrow, Saturday, Nov. 24. We thank you for your support and understanding while we continue to work through this unexpected situation. #ChinatownYVR pic.twitter.com/645rgK5Wku

Vancouver residents have begun to declare themselves “Team Otter” or “Teaam Koi” as an elusive otter feasting on expensive fish in a tranquil garden pond continues to evade capture.

Staff at the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen gardens haven’t seen the ravenous river otter that’s been chewing its way through a stock of valuable koi fish this weekend, but they know it’s there.

Initially, the group planned to donate all proceeds to the classical garden, but founder Louis Lapprend said the garden has asked that the money be given to a wildlife refuge instead.

The hungry critter has eaten three more of the fish, bringing the total casualties to 10, and on Sunday, staff said they were desperately trying to rescue the rest.

READ MORE: Emus, wallabies and cheetahs, oh my! Chinatown otter joins B.C.s pantheon of viral critters

Local non-profit group Chinatown Today has even made a batch of buttons bearing adorable cartoon otters and koi and is selling the buttons for $2 each

“It’s very frustrating. We actually went into the water [Saturday] trying to save our koi. It was very difficult because at the bottom of the pond there’s a bed of clay and it’s hard to see,” said garden spokesperson Debbie Cheung said.

“We managed to save one, and we asked the Vancouver Aquarium to take care of that one koi.”

Garden staff discussing options Saturday to remove the koi from the pond to keep them safe, but Normann said it’s not as easy as it sounds.

She said whether Madonna, the garden’s 50-year-old koi was among the survivors remains unclear.

Garden staff on Sunday started working to remove koi, and after several hours successfully captured one to be sent to te Vancouver Aqarium.

“We don’t. It was very difficult to see, we were only able to see from far away when they swim, and when we got closer they swim away really fast. They’re very stressed out at this moment.”

The garden has remained closed since the otter set up shop and once it’s captured the plan is to relocate it to the Fraser Valley.

Cheung added that staff are usually able to call the koi using a gong, but in their stressed-out state, the fish are not responding.

The gardens remain closed to the public while what has become dubbed #otterwatch on social media unfolds.