Arizona Community Helps Find Surprisingly Elusive Missing Pet Tortoise

·3 min read
Oro Valley, Arizona A storm Saturday June 18, 2022 blew the back gate open – and Elliot – a 150-pound African Sulcata turtoise escaped from Cindy and Greg Iverson’s backyard. Elliot was found and returned on June 20, 2022 credit: Cindy and Greg Iverson
Oro Valley, Arizona A storm Saturday June 18, 2022 blew the back gate open – and Elliot – a 150-pound African Sulcata turtoise escaped from Cindy and Greg Iverson’s backyard. Elliot was found and returned on June 20, 2022 credit: Cindy and Greg Iverson

Cindy and Greg Iverson

Never underestimate a tortoise's ability to roam.

On the morning of June 19, Cindy Iverson let her two dogs outside to go to the bathroom, but only one dog returned. She went into the yard to investigate, found her dog, and discovered that a storm had blown open her back gate, allowing her 12-year-old tortoise Elliot to escape.

"We panicked," Iverson, a 60-year-old sonographer, told PEOPLE. "We looked everywhere. They're so nomadic. They just walk and walk, these tortoises. Once they get out, they can walk miles and miles."

Iverson contacted her neighborhood email list and shared the news of Elliot's disappearance.

"Immediately, one person replied and said, 'Hey, I lost my turtle a couple years ago, a girl delivering Door Dash saw a tortoise last night, had her dad Google to see if anyone lost a tortoise, and they contacted me,'" Iverson said of what happened next.

The neighbor connected Iverson with the driver that spotted the tortoise. The woman told Iverson that she helped the 150-pound African Sulcata tortoise get untangled from a drainage ditch while out on delivery and that she would keep her eye open for the reptile.

"The fact that she knew that she saw him and where he was going was hugely helpful," Iverson said. "She was amazing."

Iverson also posted on NextDoor and the Oro Valley Community Facebook page about Elliot's escape.

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"Hundreds of people responded," the tortoise's mom said. "I just couldn't believe it."

Community members helped Iverson and her husband, Gary, paper the neighborhood with flyers and searched for Elliot by horseback, ATV, and foot.

"It was just stunning to me," Iverson said of the support.

She and her husband have lived in Arizona for over 20 years but only recently moved to a town outside Tucson. The coupled hadn't met many neighbors before Elliot's escape, so they were moved by how much the community wanted to help find the tortoise.

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"I was just amazed that people were willing to help look, and it was like a needle in a haystack," Iverson said.

By June 20, the day after Iverson discovered Elliot's escape, someone found the tortoise. Elliot turned up caught in the fence of a horse farm.

Iverson and her husband retrieved their pet from a spot on the farm that was not accessible by vehicle and planned to use a wagon to bring him home.

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"He came right to me when he saw me, but we tried to put him in the wagon, and he was having no part of that. So we just pulled the wagon, and he followed us all the way across that property, across the neighbor's property, to our car, and then it took two of us to lift him in the SUV and trot him home," Iverson said of the reunion.

"He didn't look terrible considering he'd been gone for a day and three quarters," she added.

Iverson and her entire community are overjoyed to have Elliot back safe at home.

"People were so excited that we found him," Iverson said. "They're like, 'Oh, what a good ending. I needed to hear some good news.' "