PREST: Otter plays it koi while we pray for Madonna

As of this writing, it is unclear whether or not Madonna has been eaten alive, her bones left to rot in a small, ornate pool of water in downtown Vancouver.

She may be getting old, but there are still a lot of Madonna fans out there who would prefer that she kept on rocking rather than get snatched up and dragged into some sort of hidden storm drain and torn to little bits.

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The Madonna in question, of course, is not the pop singer and star of the 1986 film Shanghai Surprise, but rather a 50-year-old koi, a fish, and she is being hunted by a slimy, cunning, evasive creature that is not Sean Penn.

No, what is hunting Madonna, and other fish like her, is an otter.


Don’t go for second best baby

Put your otter to the test you know, you know you’ve got to

Make him express how he feels and maybe

Then you won’t be his meal


The story broke Nov. 19 when Global News reported that an otter had moved into the area of the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden in downtown Vancouver and was eating the decorative koi fish in the garden’s pond. The koi are handsome, and expensive, and in some cases, like Madonna, very old. And now they’re getting picked off one by one by an otter genius.

“It took us by surprise,” said the garden’s communications manager (not a koi). Apparently, garden staff preferred their expensive koi to be uneaten, and so they decided to put an end to the otter feast. But how?

The first thing they had to figure out was who was responsible for urban otter trapping and relocation. Their first call was to the Vancouver Aquarium, the local experts for all things aquatic. There was a jurisdictional snag, however: Aquarium representatives are only permitted to work with marine mammals, and they determined that this was a river otter, and river otters are not marine mammals.


Aquarium detective: C’mon chief! Just give me a shot at this slimy punk! I know I can catch him.

Aquarium chief: He’s not our problem, Dumbrowsky. We gotta let this one go.

Detective: But how many koi have to die, chief!?

Chief: I said let it go, Dumbrowsky! One more word out of you and you’ll be scrubbing barnacles off belugas for the next 10 years. We can’t save all the koi.

Detective: Easy for you to say behind your desk, chief! (He kicks a wastepaper basket). Who got to you?! What’s that you’ve been eating in here? A little fish and chips!? I smell tartar!

Chief: You’re a loose cannon, Dumbrowski! An otter disgrace! Turn in your badge and galoshes!   


The garden next turned to the Vancouver Park Board for dealing with the otter, because parks have a lot in common with otters in that they are both often outdoors. The park board hired an expert trapper to catch and move the otter out of the city. But the otter, which was first seen on Nov. 17, has not only managed to avoid the traps set by his would-be captors, but also steal the bait out of them without getting caught. And all the while it has continued to kill the precious koi.

Fun fact No. 1: Did you know that the den of an otter is called a holt or couch? Otters and I aren’t so much different, it seems. I, too, enjoy nothing more than to hang around my couch and eat Chinese food.

The Vancouver otter is clearly winning this garden-variety battle – the latest count shows that it has killed and eaten at least 10 of the garden’s 14 prized koi, each valued at between $1,000 and $5,000. In a desperate attempt to save the remaining fish, the humans have begun trying to capture the koi themselves so that they can be transported to the safety of the aquarium until the otter is taken care of. But humans, it would seem, are much worse at catching koi than otters are – so far they have only grabbed one koi.

On Monday, staff announced that they were draining water out of the pond – the garden is now closed to visitors – in an attempt to capture and relocate the remaining koi. There are only three left, and the otter is still at large.

Fun fact No. 2: Otter dung is called spraint. How quaint. Are they gonna catch this otter? My guess is they ain’t.

As for Madonna, she is not confirmed dead or alive. Maybe, if you’re the sentimental type, you might say a little prayer for her.

Papa don’t preach,

I’m in trouble deep.

Papa don’t preach,

I’m an otter’s meat....


Andy Prest is the sports editor for the North Shore News and writes a biweekly humour/lifestyle column. He can be reached via email at


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