- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 24, 2006

SYDNEY, Australia — Harriet, a 322-pound Galapagos tortoise thought to have once belonged to naturalist Charles Darwin, has died in a Queensland wildlife park at age 176, carrying to her grave the mystery of her origins.

John Hangar, a senior veterinarian at the Australia Zoo on the Sunshine Coast, said the reptile suffered a heart attack Thursday.

“Harriet sadly died last night after, thankfully, a very short illness,” he said. “She had a very fairly acute heart attack and passed away quietly overnight.”

Harriet made it into the Guinness World Records book as the world’s oldest living animal but was more controversially credited with helping Darwin pioneer his theory of evolution.

“It’s thought she may have been taken off Galapagos by Darwin,” Mr. Hangar said. “She spent a period of time in Britain and found herself at the Botanic Gardens in Brisbane from about 1850 or 1860 onwards.”

Recent DNA testing has cast doubt over the widely believed story that Harriet was one of several tortoises removed from the South American islands during Darwin’s voyage in 1835.

The tortoise appears to belong to a sub-species of tortoise found on an island that the scientist never visited.

For his part, Steve Irwin, who owns Australia Zoo, was happy to let Harriet’s background remain in dispute, claiming only that the giant tortoise was the world’s oldest living chelonian.

“She is possibly one of the oldest living creatures on the planet and her passing today is a great loss for the world,” he said.

According to published records, Harriet was born in 1830, when her home country, Ecuador, achieved independence. She was sent to Australia in 1837 after spending some miserable years in England, where a lack of sunshine sent her into hibernation.

Harriet had been rivaled for age by an Aldabra tortoise in Calcutta that supposedly belonged to Robert Clive in India and which died recently at the supposed age of 255.

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