Working to heal; Koi Whisperer is featured speaker at Eastern Iowa Pond …

The phone doesn’t stop ringing.

Even in the middle of the night, MaryEllen Malinowski receives calls for help from desperate koi owners.

Known as the Koi Whisperer, Malinowski, 49, admits she talks to fish, but it’s what she does for them that has led to her international renown as a koi rescuer.

MaryEllen Malinowski, The Koi Whisperer, works to maintain healthy koi, such as this 17-year-old koi in a healthy pond. Malinowski will be talking about her efforts at an Eastern Iowa Pond Society event June 4. (photo/Koi Whisperer Sanctuary)

“Somebody has to speak for the koi,” she says from her home and koi sanctuary in St. Charles, Ill., about 45 miles west of Chicago. “An animal is an animal. A creature is a creature. Each one is beautiful and deserves to be protected.”

An award winning infrared photographer, Japanese garden designer and koi importer, Malinowski earned the Koi Whisperer “title” last year, after saving a dying koi from a garbage bag.

The fish and other koi had jumped out of a tank set up for a water garden design company’s expo.

Undaunted by the death pronouncement, Malinowski began massaging, aerating and salting a 14-inch dark blue koi she found on top of the pile.

Within a few hours, the fish was back to normal and Malinowski’s new calling began.

Mostly by word of mouth, pond owners began reaching her for help.

Iowans are among the callers, Malinowski says, noting she received a call from an Iowan with a frozen pond this winter.

She offers advice over the phone, but also makes house calls, bringing koi to her sanctuary to nurse them back to health.

Malinowski will be sharing her stories and advice during the Eastern Iowa Pond Society’s Water Gardening Event on Saturday, June 4, 2011.

MaryEllen Malinowski, known as the Koi Whisperer, works on a mission to rescue healthy koi that grew too big for their pond and were given to the sanctuary’s adoption program. (photo/Koi Whisperer Sanctuary)

The event, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., will be at Kirkwood Outreach Training Services, 3375 Armar Dr., Marion.

Other speakers include Josh Spece, owner of In the Country Garden Gifts of Independence, who will discuss hosta, and author Jamie Beyer of Boone, with his talk on “The Dirty Secret of Ponding.”

Malinowski says Saturday’s event is a prime way to meet one of her sanctuary’s missions: education. She also is traveling to England this month to share the challenges  Americans face with koi ponds.

The koi world is different in Europe, she says, where pond owners do not have the same health problems with their fish.

More koi there are abandoned because they have outgrown their ponds or owners find other koi that captures their attention, she says.

One of the biggest challenges here, she says, is that many Americans use stones in the bottom of their ponds that make it difficult to remove waste, which leads to the koi breathing and ingesting bacteria. Fin rot, a form of bacterial disease, is among the common ailments Malinowski sees.

This koi, rescued this winter and suffering from a fungal infection, is among the 200 koi that MaryEllen Malinowski has rescued in the past year at her sanctuary in St. Charles, Ill. (photo/Koi Whisperer Sanctuary)

Koi herpes virus, known as KHV, a disease typically fatal to koi that is highly contagious, is another problem she sees.

Her koi sanctuary in St. Charles includes six quarantine tanks where unhealthy fish are kept during recovery.

She has started a koi adoption program for those that do not have KHV or carp pox, another virus, and are able to go to a new home.

Malinowski estimates she has rescued 200 koi in the past year.

The hobby, where some koi sell for $20,000 or more, is increasing in popularity, so she doesn’t see an end to the need.

Her own ponds have 26 koi, the oldest of which is 11. Koi can live up to 80 years old, she notes.

She started a Kids for Koi Program to teach children about koi, and is in the process of making the sanctuary a non-profit, even as she cuts back on her photography career. Her two teen-age daughters help, along with partners in Georgia and the United Kingdom.

“It’s not about profit,” she says. “It’s about passion.”


Eastern Iowa Pond Society Water Gardening Event

When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, June 4, 2011. Doors open at 8:30 a.m.

Where: Kirkwood Outreach Training Services, 3375 Armar Dr., Marion.

Cost: $5 per person

The Eastern Iowa Pond Society also will host its annual pond and garden tour. The tour, rain or shine, will be 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, July 10, 2011. Cost is $5 per person. For information on locations, see:

For information on the Koi Sanctuary see:

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