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When we moved to our current home (on the same east Hollywood hill on which we have now lived for more than forty years!) we inherited from the previous owner a fish pond and a handful of fish. We moved it from the balcony to the small "Buddha garden" right outside our bedroom and have taken care of our fish friends ever since. We have not, however, been able to protect them from predators. Raccoons, we suspect, are the chief culprits: on one occasion, I found one struggling to rescue himself from a watery death. But hawks, we think, might also be to blame.
We have done our best. They have a good number of rocks to hide under, when danger strikes. We also built an electric fence around the perimeter and once in a while we manage to persuade Joe, the gardener, to make sure that it's still working. It's a small shock, it seems, but I myself lack the courage, when confronted with that menacing wire, to reach out and touch it! Still, we can't always be sure that it's working. And our fish count has been gradually reduced over the years. One died of natural causes. Others have simply disappeared overnight. We go out to give them their shake of breakfast fish food and find one fewer than the night before.
The latest victim was, alas, one of our two koi. They are gold and black, and it is with considerable pleasure and (unjustified!) parental pride that we have watched them grow from maybe three inches into full-grown, substantial fish. They have always led the pack (the school?) at breakfast time, lurking near the surface and seeming to keep an watchful eye on the glass-paneled bedroom door in anticipation of their feast. We did at one time give them names, Speckles, I think it was, and Freckles, but somehow the names didn't stick. But we were as fond of them as people can be, of fish.
Then we returned last week from a few days away to find that one of the koi was missing. We humans were sad, but the (now only) two remaining fish, one goldfish and one koi appeared to be taking ever harder. They have been uncharacteristically reticent about their food, lurking deep below the surface and only rising to gobble down the flakes long after they are sure the bedroom door is safely closed behind me. The remaining koi, particularly, once quite bold and friendly, now seems to be in deep mourning for the loss of his companion. He skulks slowly in the shadows, down below the rocks, and rarely darts up in response to human presence--probably associating us unfairly with the guilty assailant.
Do fish mourn? There is considerable debate, I know, about whether animals share human emotions. We project a great deal on our pets, our cats and dogs, and birds. And I have seen television reports on the emotional lives of our nearest relatives, the apes. But fish? I'm sure that there's an element of fancy in my interpretation of our koi's behavior. But I can say for certain that it has changed since the loss of his ill-fated pond-mate.