Moved by reports that Descanso Gardens may have lost up to 90 expensive Japanese fish to thieves, two collectors said they will donate more than 200 brightly colored koi to the Los Angeles County-run arboretum in La Canada Flintridge.
"I'm getting to the age where I can't maintain my fish, and I know they'll have a good home at Descanso," said Evelyn O'Neil, a 65-year-old retired nursing assistant from Mission Hills who is donating her collection of about 25 koi. Some are worth $400 each and up to 25 years old, she said.
Meanwhile, Barbara Aaron of San Juan Capistrano will bequeath her collection of almost 200 fish, including 75 three-foot-long koi imported from Japan that are worth $15,000, Descanso officials said.
"I'm so excited . . . I've never seen a three-foot koi. The biggest we have here is 18 inches," said Descanso Gardens Supervisor George Lewis.
Koi, which means "living jewel" in Japanese, are a species of carp noted for their intricate patterns and hues ranging from platinum to red, blue, yellow and black. Some live many years and can fetch $100,000, said Philip Ishizu, a San Gabriel koi breeder and past president of the Associated Koi Clubs of America.
Descanso officials say they are delighted with the offers and plan to move the koi into their eight streams and ponds in the coming weeks.
"We're glad to have them. At one time we had over 175, but we've been hit hard; we only have about 25 left," Lewis said.
Besides the losses from thefts, Descanso employees pumped local well water that had been treated with chemicals into the koi ponds earlier this year, killing about 70 fish.
Up to 90 Stolen
Officials have not kept inventory, but they suspect that 90 koi may have been stolen. In June, nearby residents said they saw two men scurrying from Descanso after closing time with fish in buckets. Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies traced the suspects to a Glendale home with a koi pond in the backyard but were unable to identify the fish there as those missing from Descanso.
The ensuing publicity has had a ripple effect.
After reading about the koi caper, a Glendale businessman offered to implant some of the remaining fish with a silicon chip he sells that provides identification in case of theft.
That process took place last week before television cameras. Watching from her living room, O'Neil hatched her own plan to help Descanso.
An animal lover who also has three dogs and seven cats, O'Neil said she will miss her koi.
"I can pet them," she said. "Some of them eat out of my hand."