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Runaway tortoise travels across Duluth, meets mayor

Flash, a Rio Grande desert tortoise, enjoys a snack. (Photo courtesy of Meredith Saiki)1 / 3
Flash, a Rio Grande Desert Tortoise, eats a dandelion, one of his favorite foods. Flash was recently reunited with his owners after running away. He was found 9 miles from home. Photo courtesy of Meredith Saiki2 / 3
Flash, a pet Rio Grande desert tortoise, was found 9 miles from his home after escaping from his owner. (Photo courtesy of Meredith Saiki)3 / 3

When Flash was found walking down the railroad tracks in Duluth's Riverside neighborhood, his family was relieved.

For 11 days, Barbara and Meredith Saiki searched their East Hillside neighborhood, shared photos of Flash on Facebook and posted flyers around town with his physical description — 7 to 8 inches in diameter.

Flash, their pet tortoise, had run away — far away.

On Aug. 22, Flash was picked up near Spirit Lake Marina, more than 9 miles from the Saikis' East Hillside home.

"When he is on a mission, he will go," Barbara Saiki said.

But Flash, a Rio Grande desert tortoise, made time to socialize on his trip, too. On Aug. 11, a day after he escaped from the Saikis' fenced-in backyard, he spent most of the day lounging nearby in Duluth Mayor Emily Larson's yard.

Larson even tweeted a photo of Flash eating lettuce.

"PrettttttyGreatDay," Larson wrote on Twitter. "Yoga, walks, creek swims, #TeamErin #gotv, dinner on the deck. Plus.This.Turtle! Which came to visit. So I fed it."

Saiki said Larson didn't realize Flash was someone's pet and misidentified him as a turtle (turtles live usually in the water while tortoises reside on land).

But Larson's yard was the last known Flash sighting for 11 days, during which he covered more than 9 miles.

"He had to be going pretty fast," Saiki said, adding that Flash would have averaged just under a mile per day and is usually only active during the daylight hours.

But Saiki also wondered if someone may have picked up Flash, thought he was a turtle and brought him down to the St. Louis River in an effort to rescue him.

Eventually, Flash was spotted by Coralee Thilges and her family, who were walking along the railroad tracks near Spirit Lake Marina.

"We were crossing the railroad tracks right by our home and he caught our eye by the tracks," Coralee Thilges wrote on the "Missing Pets In The Northland" Facebook page. "So we stopped to go check it out."

Flash's 12-day adventure had ended.

"We knew he was someone's because he wasn't afraid of people at all and clearly not a species found in Minnesota," Thilges wrote.

Thanks to a photo of Flash shared earlier in the week on that same Facebook page, Thilges was able to able to reunite Flash with his family.

"You can have an eye on him and turn around, and he's not there anymore," Saiki said, explaining his name.

"Because he's gone in a flash."

Jimmy Lovrien

Jimmy Lovrien is a reporter for the Duluth News Tribune. He spent the summer of 2015 as an intern for the Duluth News Tribune and was hired full time in October 2017 as a reporter for the Weekly Observer. He also reported for the Lake County News-Chronicle in 2017-18. Lovrien grew up in Alexandria, Minn., but moved to Duluth in 2013 to attend The College of St. Scholastica. Lovrien graduated from St. Scholastica in 2017 with a bachelor's degree in English and history. He also spent a summer studying journalism at the University of California, Berkeley.

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