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As the spring sunshine dispels the last dregs of winter, animals have been gradually making their way back to the pond at Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden. A pair of ducks were the first to return in March, gliding beneath drooping willow; soon after, the turtles emerged and struck out for the warming rocks. Now, even the koi are home.
Since late November, the Garden’s koi have been away ‘AquaBnB’-ing – at the Vancouver Aquarium, no less. Three adults and over three hundred juveniles were relocated there after a river otter entered the Garden and neighbouring park, adopting the pond as its newfound food source. In total, we lost eleven of our adult koi, including the iconic 50-year-old Madonna, who had been with us since the Garden opened in 1986. With support from the Aquarium and Vancouver Park Board, we were able to rescue the remaining koi, who made their return on Thursday, May 9.
Gliding through the jade water, the koi are a special sight for visitors to the Garden and the public park, but they play a central role in the Garden’s educational and cultural programming as well. Every year, we welcome thousands of students on field trips and summer programs, engaging them with Chinese culture and heritage in the Garden and Chinatown. Our Creature Quest program, in particular, introduces students to important animals in Chinese culture and their place in Chinese garden tradition, from hidden bat motifs to the majestic koi.
On our public tours, the koi are as remarkable a feature as the Double Corridor or the Tai Hu rocks. Much like the elite Ming scholars whose gardens they would grace, koi are incredibly intelligent fish. Not only do they possess long-term memory and the ability to recognize their owners, but they even serve as protectors in their pond ecosystem. Wendy Ross, one of our longtime docents, recounted a moment on one of her tours that she will be hard-pressed to forget:
“[Two summers ago,] I brought my tour group up close to see a group of turtles in the pond. At the same time, a heron flew down from the roof and landed very close to the baby turtle. As the heron paddled closer and closer to the turtle, my whole group started making noises to make the heron leave. Suddenly, from around the corner, one of the largest koi headed straight for the heron! It kept pushing against it until the heron finally got fed up and flew away. After that, nothing I could say was of much interest…”
Far from being mere ornamental fish, the koi are an integral part of the Garden team. Many of them, including Madonna, were older even than the pond that was their home. For over three decades, they have helped bring people from different cultures and backgrounds together in appreciation and conversation, creating connections that go beyond the Garden walls.
It has been incredibly moving and heartwarming to see the outpouring of messages, personal stories, and creative tributes that have come out from those who have visited the Garden and our koi over the years. We would like to thank the community for their support, and invite everyone to join us in welcoming koi back to our pond. Using the hashtag #OdetoKoi, share your stories and memories of our koi on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for a chance to win prizes and be featured on the Garden’s social media.