A fishy mystery at Zilker garden
Visitors to the Zilker Botanical Garden come for the lush scenery, pristine landscaping and garden ponds, which are stocked with exotic flora and fauna.
Last month, however, someone came for the fish.
Ralph, a 3-foot-long white koi with orange and black spots, and Oprah, another 3-footer with an orange square on her head, were big hits among staff members and patrons. But now Ralph and Oprah — and 11 of their friends — are no longer to be seen flitting through Lotus Pond, their home for more than 20 years.
Two weeks ago, the koi — Japanese carp known for their distinctive colors and patterning — were reported missing from the Isamu Taniguchi Japanese Garden, which covers 3 acres of the Zilker garden’s 30-acre expanse.
The 13 stolen fish were 2 to 3 feet long and
Continued from A weighed 15 to 20 pounds each. Some koi, which are not edible, can fetch up to $500, depending on their size and patterning.
Victor Ovalle, a spokesman for the Austin Parks and Recreation Department, said the city’s stolen fish are valued at $150 to $200 each.
“We’re obviously very disappointed,” said Melvin Hinson, a horticultural supervisor at the garden. “My staff was very disheartened to see their friends gone.”
Staff members noticed that the fish were missing over the course of about five days. Garden officials filed a police report on June 28.
Hinson said he cannot remember a similar episode in the 10 years he’s worked at Zilker Botanical Garden.
Since the incident, garden officials have installed security cameras.
Hinson said stealing the fish would have taken an “extraordinary effort,” considering that large koi are extremely difficult to catch. In addition, it would take about 10 gallons of water in a large cooler just to keep one of the large fish alive.
Whoever stole them had to make several trips, Hinson said, adding that the theft might have taken place over more than one evening.
The park is open daily from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. during the summer, and it is unlikely that anyone would have gotten away with the theft during business hours, he said.
Detective Kevin Covington is investigating the case. Among the clues: garden staff mem-
bers discovered fishing nets and a bag of goldfish — possibly used to lure the koi into the nets — on the grounds after the thefts.
Otherwise, Covington said, there are few leads.
“People buy them for their beauty,” Covington said of the koi. “To take 13 of them, (the thieves) had to know what they were doing.”
Hinson said he thinks it’s unlikely that the fish will be recovered.
“I would hope they are somewhere where they can survive,” he said. “The likelihood is that they’re going to damage them.”
There are still hundreds of smaller koi in Zilker Botanical Garden ponds and about a dozen large koi. Botanical garden officials are currently taking stock of their inventory to see if they want to buy more of the fish for breeding.
Covington said anyone with information about the missing fish should call him at 9749774.
Thirteen koi – ornamental Japanese carp – are thought to have been stolen from Lotus Pond in the Zilker Botanical Garden.
Staff members found fishing nets and a bag of goldfish that might have been used to lure and capture 3 koi that recently disappeared from Zilker Botanical Garden.