Dubuque museum says tortoise not stolen after all - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Dubuque museum says tortoise not stolen after all

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Cashew at the museum Thursday. (Photo courtesy: Katlyn Gerken) Cashew at the museum Thursday. (Photo courtesy: Katlyn Gerken)
DUBUQUE (KWWL) -

The mystery has been solved in a breathlessly dramatic saga that has captured the attention of people throughout the world, with the story appearing in news organizations both in and outside North America.

On Tuesday morning, staff members at the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium discovered one of the tortoises in its new exhibit "Turtles: Secrets of the Shell" had gone missing. They said this African leopard tortoise named Cashew had gone missing sometime between Sunday evening and Tuesday morning and presumed the animal stolen after conducting a search of the museum.

The museum contacted the police department and started reviewing its surveillance camera video for any clues to Cashew's disappearance. Through media reports, the local community and then wider community learned of the plight of the presumably taken tortoise.

On Thursday, however, two museum visitors and an educator were shell-shocked when they entered the museum's elevator and found the tortoise on the floor next to them. Cashew, whose identity the museum confirmed, returned safe and sound, though her reappearance remained a mystery. Museum president and CEO Jerry Enzler said at that time he believed whoever took the tortoise had undergone a change of heart and quietly returned her to the museum.

In a release from the museum Friday, however, the world now knows the alarm was all for naught. It turns out Cashew had been within the museum's walls all this time. The museum says on Thursday an employee discovered the tortoise trapped behind what staff members had presumed to be an impenetrable wall. It appears Cashew crawled back there and found herself stuck.

"The employee was overjoyed to have found Cashew but panicked at how to reveal that Cashew had not been stolen but instead had been trapped," the media release said. "Trying to protect the Museum & Aquarium from looking foolish, the employee placed Cashew on the elevator so she would be immediately found."

Late Thursday evening, the employee informed Enzler of the decision because he or she was "upset at making this wrong decision," the release said.

Because this is a personnel issue, the museum is not releasing the name of the employee.

"The action taken by the employee Thursday afternoon was wrong," Enzler said, "and is not reflective of the integrity of the staff who dedicate themselves to the highest of Museum & Aquarium standards. We apologize to the media and to the community."

"The Museum & Aquarium is now reviewing all its enclosures and its procedures to continue to provide the highest possible level of animal care," the museum's director of marketing and sales John Sutter said.

"We have learned three important things from Cashew this week," Enzler said. "First, Cashew is much smarter than we thought. Second, Cashew was not stolen, which restores our faith in humankind and restores a feeling of good will within the Museum & Aquarium and in the community. Third, the community's tremendous interest in Cashew's plight is indicative of the enormous compassion that this community has. "

The museum says a veterinarian examined Cashew, who is in decidedly good health.

The tortoise will return to her exhibit soon.

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