A fishy mys­tery at Zilker gar­den

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Nau­reen Khan

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.

Jay Jan­ner

Thir­teen koi – or­na­men­tal Ja­panese carp – are thought to have been stolen from Lo­tus Pond in the Zilker Botan­i­cal Gar­den.

Jay Jan­ner

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.

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