VANCOUVER — The Vancouver Park Board says it's time for plan B as a clever river otter eludes capture in a tranquil garden where it has made a den and is munching through a stock of large and valuable koi carp.
Parks director Howard Normann said the Ministry of Environment advised him to bring in an animal relocation specialist, who started work Friday at the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden in downtown Vancouver.
The specialists are "quite confident" they can capture the otter within hours, Normann said, especially since it has had a good experience with a humane trap set by the park board Wednesday. It snatched fish and chicken from the trap that was used as bait but escaped because a stick may have stopped the door from closing and snaring it.
There has been no shortage of suggestions on how to handle the otter, which arrived in the garden last weekend.
"I have heard everything from 'Why don't you just shoot the otter?' to 'Why don't you bring more koi here and just keep feeding the otter?' " said Normann. "There's a team otter. There's a team koi."
Loss of the fish has been difficult for staff and visitors to the walled garden in Chinatown because many of the koi are large. The eldest, named Madonna, is estimated to be 50 years old.
Of the 14 fish that were returned to the garden's ponds last year after a renovation, Normann said it's believed just seven remain, with all the losses blamed on the hungry otter. A garden spokeswoman says the fate of Madonna remains unconfirmed.
Also unresolved is the mystery of how the otter found the park, which is far from any rivers and surrounded by busy streets, but officials are gathering clues.
A resident contacted Normann to report the otter may have been living in Andy Livingstone Park, between the Sun Yat-Sen garden and False Creek.
"We do have a pond with a waterfall at Andy Livingstone, but in the wintertime, due to freezing of that pipe system, we do shut it off. So that was shut off a week ago, a week-and-a-half ago," said Normann.
A picture taken by another resident showed an otter scampering through alleys and across streets barely a block from the park last Saturday before disappearing in bushes near the garden.
Park board officials want to protect both the koi and the otter so they have agreed with advice they've received to ship the otter to the nearby Fraser Valley instead of taking it to Vancouver's Stanley Park.
"I was told through the Ministry of Environment that if we took this animal to Stanley Park ... it would probably beat me back here, now it knows the fish are here," Normann said, adding that experts believe the otter won't leave the garden on its own until it has eaten every koi.
Relocation to the Fraser Valley is also considered safest for the otter.
"This is for the best chance for the life of this otter, lots of food, lots of friends," said Normann.
The garden remained closed to the public Friday while efforts continued to capture the evasive creature.
Beth Leighton, The Canadian Press