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Once again, a venerable Chinese garden located in downtown Vancouver is under siege from an otter feasting on its prized koi.

When a hungry otter turned up last year, it was an unprecedented situation for the city’s 240 parks that garnered international attention and divided Vancouverites into Team Otter and Team Koi.

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The Vancouver Park Board, which maintains parts of the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden in Vancouver's Chinatown, has rescued dozens of koi from the pond at the complex. Chris Lee from AquaTerra Environmental Ltd. is seen removing a live koi from the pond on Nov. 3, 2019.Vancouver Park Board/Supplied

Now, the parks board that maintains parts of the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden in Chinatown is on full alert, having rescued dozens of koi from the pond at the complex, as well as organizing traps to catch the elusive otter.

Over the weekend, the board disclosed that trouble began when koi heads and other bits turned up in the garden’s pond earlier in the week, and a new otter was spotted.

Howard Normann, director of parks for the Vancouver Park Board, said his team is acting more quickly than last year.

“We just mobilized and nobody blinked an eye,” he said of this year’s response, built on last year’s experience of underestimating the otter. “We didn’t understand how quickly an otter can act.”

The garden complex, named for the first president of China, opened around the time of the Expo 86 World’s Fair in Vancouver and is the first full-scale classical Suzhou garden built outside of China. It’s a mix of a public park and admission-access garden.

Last year, web developer Louis Lapprend produced Team Koi and Team Otter buttons that sold for $2 each, as well as a few T-shirts, raising $500 to donate to the garden.

The people who run the garden were reluctant to take the money, he said, so he will not repeat the effort this time.

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The trap that has been set up to remove the otter is seen at the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, the first full-scale classical Suzhou garden built outside of China.Vancouver Park Board/Supplied

“I wouldn’t have imagined that it would happen exactly the same way just one year after,” he said, calling the situation bizarre.

“That garden has been safe from predators for the 30 years in which it operated. Suddenly, two years in a row, we have got famished wild animals coming in."

He wondered whether there’s a shortage of wild fish elsewhere. "What’s going on? That’s the part I am most curious about.”

Mr. Normann has a theory. First off, he said one of the lessons of the situation is that there are a surprising number of otters out and about as urban wildlife.

He says the otter may have come out of False Creek, an inlet that juts into the downtown area, and made its way to a small park near the Sun Yat-sen garden.

From there, he says the otter may have picked up the scent of the koi through water flowing from the classical Chinese garden into the storm sewer.

“It knew there was fish close by so it just had to find them,” he mused. “I don’t know how else it would know [that] behind 15-foot concrete walls there was a pond holding fish unless it had some kind of scent.”

Staff at the garden first realized something was up when they found a koi’s head alongside the pond last week. "Three quarters of it was eaten, completely gone,” Mr. Normann said.

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The parks board has also organized traps to catch the elusive otter that has been eating the live koi. Here, the otter is caught on CCTV overnight on Oct. 31, 2019.Vancouver Park Board/Supplied

On Wednesday, staff found two more koi bits and caught sight of the culprit.

“You see a sea otter and they lay on their backs and rub their hands together, even a river otter, and it’s sleek and it’s cute," he said.

But he added that they are effective predators. "Their teeth are like razor blades. If you go online and watch them feeding on stuff, they just rip the stuff to shreds.”

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