UC Davis rescuers go fishing for koi

30 koi found in wildfire areas are recuperating on campus.

UC Davis rescuers go fishing for koi
Dr. John Madigan (in striped shirt) helps remove koi from a pond on fire-damaged property in Sonoma County. The pond water was low on oxygen because of a power outage.

Members of the UC Davis Veterinary Emergency Response Team put their MacGyver-like problem-solving skills to good use in wildfire-ravaged Northern California.

Led by team director and Professor John Madigan, DVM, MS, the volunteers found an ash-contaminated koi pond on private property in Sonoma County.

“Being an equine veterinarian, Dr. Madigan was unfamiliar with the best ways to bring these fish to safety but knew the veterinary school had aquatic specialists,” the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine reported Oct. 17. “Knowing these type of situations would arise during the fire crisis, the school established an email listserv to quickly reach others with questions. One email from Dr. Madigan about the koi quickly put him in touch with Dr. Esteban Soto, a fish veterinarian with the school, and VERT member Dr. Eric Davis, who had experience transporting fish in an emergency.”

UC Davis provided this account of what happened next:

“The team secured a horse water trough in the back of Madigan’s pickup truck and carefully raked the pond to extract the fish. Concerned about lack of oxygen for the two-hour trip back to campus, the team utilized a tire pump air compressor. Running a cord through the back window, they plugged the compressor into the truck’s auxiliary power ports. A tube from the compressor was placed into the water to provide airflow. Finally, plywood was tied down over the top of the trough to keep the fish and water from getting out.

“The hastily created transport system worked like a charm. VERT arrived at the UC Davis Center for Aquatic Biology and Aquaculture (CABA) with all 10 koi alive. The koi immediately thrived once in large tanks with plenty of oxygen and food thanks to the assistance of CABA Director Linda Deanovic.

“Back in the fire zone, word spread that UC Davis was able to rescue koi, and other owners asked VERT to visit their properties to see if their fish were still alive. The next day, VERT rescued six more koi. On the third day, 14 fish, with more to follow. Some of the koi rescued are more than 30 years old.

“Once the koi are back on campus, they are examined by Dr. Soto, who regularly treats koi as a faculty member with the UC Davis veterinary hospital’s Aquatic Animal Health (AAH) unit, a division of the Companion Exotic Animal Medicine and Surgery Service. During the next couple of weeks, the recently relocated koi will be allowed to acclimatize to the new systems in CABA.

“Once the fish are acclimatized (stress induced from the fires, poor water quality and transportation are usually risk factors for opportunistic infections), a complete physical examination under anesthesia will be performed by AAH. The exam includes collection and analysis of gill clips and skin scrapes, as well as blood collection and analysis to evaluate overall health of the animals. If required at any time, the koi will be treated individually and monitored until ready to return home.

“To date, UC Davis has taken in two llamas, 10 horses, 19 cats, and 30 koi.”

Reflecting on the koi rescue, Dr. Madigan noted: “When all this started, who would’ve thought that the largest group of animals we treated from the fires would’ve been fish.”

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