A mystery thief stealing Koi Carp under the cover of darkness from a garden centre in Ottery St Mary has been identified by eagle-eyed staff.
A brazen otter has been twice spotted dashing away in the dark from the crime scene at Otter Garden Centres, where three Koi Carp have gone missing from a pond.
The remaining fish have been removed by staff and the pond drained, in a bid to curb the otter’s night-time antics.
Jim Walker, the garden centre’s fish expert, who spotted otter prints in mud near near the pond, said: “We couldn’t believe that an otter had the brass to come into the garden centre at night for a dip in the pond and a tasty supper.”
The bandit otter had been seen making its escape from the garden centre by the night security team, and again when staff were walking to work at 7.30am.
Jim said: “We realised we couldn’t just leave the Koi in the pond, waiting for the otter to come back and help themselves to another late-night supper.
“We’ll leave the pond empty for a few months before we make a decision about whether it’s safe to bring the Koi back.
“It’s a real shame as so many customers – especially children – love watching these beautiful fish in the spring and summer months. But it’s hard to argue with nature.”
He added: “We just have to hope that when the weather improves, they will stay in the river and stop the night-time visits to the Koi pond in search of midnight snacks.”
The hunt for the fish-pinching culprit began after one of the larger Koi Carp went missing from a pond in the plant area.
Two days later another disappeared and the remains of a third was discovered hidden nearby.
The garden centre team turned detective to find the cause, checking its wildlife-friendly fence at the rear of the nursery.
When the offender was singled-out as an otter, garden centre staff welcomed the sightings as ‘positive’ that the creatures were living nearby.
“It seemed unlikely that an otter would make all the effort to come up to the site from the river, use the badger gate and walk the distance to the pond just to find food,” said Jim.