A wayward otter left a Chinatown garden the same way it got in: undetected.
The elusive creature managed to outwit humans and didn’t get captured by one of the nine traps; three were set up by the Vancouver Park Board and six were set up by a wildlife relocation specialist.
The expert was brought in last Friday, and the park board was optimistic the animal would be captured during the weekend. But as officials “otter” have known, this was no ordinary critter. It didn’t fall for the salmon and tuna baits; it has a more expensive taste in fish.
The otter has caused havoc since it was first spotted at Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden on Nov. 17. Since then, it has eaten 11 adult koi, each worth between $1,000 and $5,000, including Madonna, a prized fish believed to be more than 50 years old.
The presence of the unwanted guest forced the garden to shut down for nearly two weeks as officials tried to to lure it into one of the traps, but that hasn’t seemed to work. It was last seen Saturday, when garden staff tried to rescue and protect the remaining koi.
Officials now say there’s only one conclusion.
“As of this morning, there are still no signs of the otter. We feel like Elvis has left the building,” parks director Howard Normann said. “The otter came in the dark and probably left in the dark. We’re not sure exactly to this point, where it came from or where it went.”
Six traps that were set up here have been removed. Experts told park board otters enjoy hunting their own food. Otter hasn’t been seen since Saturday. pic.twitter.com/xaGFfO0L0q
— Sheila Scott (@Sheila_Scott) November 29, 2018
But the park board and Dr. Sun Yat-Sen staff believe the otter may have slipped in through the gates, prompting them to install grates on the doors.
“We’re going to have automatic door closers. We’re putting a plate on the bottom to prevent the otter or any of the otter friends from revisiting the garden,” Normann said.
On Wednesday, park board staff, volunteers and specialists at the Vancouver Aquarium undertook the delicate work of moving the surviving adult koi, along with 344 baby koi, to the aquarium for safekeeping.
We are pleased to announce that we are hosting some V.I.K. (Very Important Koi) guests here at #VanAqua. They have quickly won over the hearts of aquarists, and we’re happy to support @VanGarden and @ParkBoard during this rescue mission. #OtterWatch2018 pic.twitter.com/hL4vB1Uhdp
— Vancouver Aquarium (@vanaqua) November 29, 2018
In the meantime, staff will be adding cameras and monitoring them to see if the otter returns before bringing the fish back to the garden, which likely won’t happen until the spring.
While the otter hasn’t been seen around Chinatown, it has been active on the Twitterverse.
Thursday morning, it told its followers it is off on a new adventure, but didn’t share where.
I’m off on a new adventure.
I’ll send postcards.#Otterwatch2018
— Chinatown Otter (@ChinatownOtter) November 29, 2018
Garden looks for silver lining
The executive director of the garden said it’s been an emotional time for staff and volunteers who have grown attached to the koi.
“The koi, they are very important as a decorative element in the garden, but going beyond being beautiful, they do have value from a cultural perspective,” executive director Vincent Kwan said.
“They have symbolic representations that tie to things related to perseverance, transformation, happiness, things that are very abstract, but elements that are engrained in the Chinese culture.”
The story has made headlines around the world and has put a spotlight on the garden.
“I think the publicity is not a bad thing. At the end of the day, what we feel is the attention and the various supports we got from the community are a sign that the garden is well-loved,” Kwan said.
Chinatown Today, a group focused on highlighting the neighbour’s past and present stories, describes the saga has “the most unexpected Chinatown story in recent memory.”
It created merchandise for people to show their allegiances. The proceeds go to help the garden.
— Chinatown Today今日唐人街 (@chinatown_today) November 27, 2018
The garden has been trying to replenish its koi population and hoped the adult koi had spawned.
When the remaining koi were rescued Wednesday, it showed staff their efforts had worked and the mature koi did produce more fish. Kwan called this a silver lining of the otter saga.