11/04/2019 20:43 EST

Koi Pond At Vancouver’s Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden Drained After Otter Attack

The park staff don't know how the otter got over the barrier they installed after last year's deadly attack.

VANCOUVER — The koi pond at Vancouver’s Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden has been drained and the remaining carp removed after a hungry river otter returned for a second annual fall hunting trip.

Vancouver parks director Howard Normann said Monday the appearance of a river otter at the garden last week prompted immediate action to prevent carnage similar to last fall when an otter killed about a dozen large koi before escaping live trap efforts.

It’s not yet known how the river otter managed to bypass measures implemented last year to secure the pond area, but it’s possible the animal scaled a fortified fence or took advantage of a brief opening of self-locking gates to make its deadly entrance, he said.

A man looks at the water 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. CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Normann said he can’t determine if the otter is the same animal from last year, but it’s somewhat coincidental an otter came back to hunt in the gardens shortly after a nearby public waterfall and pond area where it may have been living or frequenting was shut down for the winter.

“It seems to make sense that there’s something connected to us turning that off and then it makes its way over to the garden right across the street,” he said. “We winterize all those water features. We can’t have them running all winter because if they freeze all the pipes will break.”

Normann said river otters have a strong sense of smell and are likely able to pick up the scents from the koi pond.

“It’s possible it visits that (public waterfall and pond) on a regular basis and senses there’s a (koi) pond across the street,” he said.

Chris Lee from AquaTerra Environmental Ltd. removes a live koi fish from the pond at the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden in this handout photo on Nov. 2, 2019. A Vancouver park board official says a hungry river otter following the scent of fresh koi fish likely scaled a fence or took advantage of a brief opening of gates at a downtown Vancouver garden pond to hunt its prey. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Vancouver Park Board *MANDATORY CREDIT*

He said there were no otters in the gardens while the waterfall and pond were operating last spring and summer.

A 1.2-metre high plate-like barrier was placed on the two fenced entrances to the garden last year and grates were installed in underground pipes leading to the gardens to keep out otters, but an otter still made it into the gardens, Normann said.

The gardens are surrounded by a 4.5-metre high fence and the two public entrance gates have self-locking mechanisms, but it’s still possible the otter was able to sneak in, he said.

“Unless there’s some secret tunnel I don’t know about, and we’ve explored everything,” said Normann. “We can’t find it if there is one.”

Last year’s otter exploits generated international headlines. It also created a divide between those who supported the otter, leading to a Team Otter group, and backers of the Koi, calling themselves Team Koi.

Koi fish hold spiritual significance in several Asian cultures and others supported the wild survival instincts of the otter.

Vancouver aquarium otter expert Dave Rosen said river otters are excellent hunters who are known to wander far inland in search of prey, which includes birds, rodents and other small animals. He said they are also difficult to catch.

“It is very difficult to keep an otter out or into something where it doesn’t want to be,” he said. “They are good climbers. The can go through drains. They can fit through small spaces.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 4, 2019.