For over 3,000 years, the tradition of the “scholar’s” garden has grown into a central part of Chinese culture. Each feature has a significance established through centuries of Confucian and Daoist tradition: artificial mountains represent strength and power, while flowers and trees are carefully selected for their symbolic and aesthetic qualities.
And at the heart of the Chinese garden, there is water, and fish. Fish have long been associated with wealth and abundance in Chinese culture thanks to a piece of mystical wordplay: “fish” in Chinese is 魚, or in pinyin yú, while the almost-identical sounding 裕 (yù) means “abundance”.
That was certainly the case for one visitor to Vancouver’s Dr Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden last weekend, who probably couldn’t believe their luck when they stumbled across the garden’s iconic koi pond. Faced with the tempting prospect of more than a dozen juicy fish, the tourist – a local river otter – decided to move in.
“This is actually the first time we’ve seen an otter in the Chinese garden,” communications director Debbie Cheung told Global News. “It took us by surprise too.”
Unfortunately – though unsurprisingly – the otter is having a devastating effect on the garden’s expensive and decades-old koi. Garden staff confirmed on Tuesday that the sneaky squatter has so far helped himself to five of the pond’s prize residents.
“The kois are part of our team so it's quite devastating for us,” Cheung told CBC. “But at the same time the otter is looking for food, right? We don't want to blame the otter.”
Nobody knows where the otter came from, or how it broke into the walled park, but one thing’s for sure: it doesn’t want to leave. The pesky pescatarian evaded a capture attempt on Tuesday that would have seen it relocated to nearby Stanley Park, ignoring the chicken offered by garden staff in favor of a sixth stolen fish.
Although the Garden has reached out to the Vancouver Aquarium and Vancouver Park Board for help, the otter is proving to be a tricky character. Since it’s not a marine mammal, the Aquarium is not technically permitted to handle it.
“It is a river otter so we had to go through different organizations and departments to see who can come and help us catch the little guy and release it,” Cheung explained to Global News.
While staff and officials continue to try to catch the crafty carnivore, they are also taking the opportunity to devise a wildlife plan for any other predators that manage to break in. And although they are looking into replacing the sadly delicious koi, there’s one fish in particular that staff are keeping an eye on: a 50-year-old koi named Madonna.
“The five bodies we've seen so far isn't her,” Cheung confirmed on Tuesday. “She's been with us for 20 years and it would be very sad if we lost her.”