Tortoises generally have a life expectancy of more than 250 years, while others live only about 80. On average, across all species, they live up to 150 years. According to the Guinness World Records, the oldest land-living tortoise is 190 years old. But did you know that Charles Darwin had a pet tortoise that outlived him?
Charles Darwin’s personal pet tortoise, they lovingly called Harriet, died in 2006 at the age of 175 years.
The Tortoise and the Father of Evolution
British naturalist Charles Darwin discovered Harriet in the Galapagos Islands in 1835, when she was only the size of a dinner plate. This means she was most likely born around the year 1830. Her body shape also indicates that she is most likely from the island of Santa Cruz. She lived in England for a short time before being transported to Australia by Darwin’s friend, John Wickham.
In 1842, John Wickham and Harriet arrived in Brisbane. Harriet lived at the Brisbane Botanical Gardens for over a century. In the early 1900s, she was given the name Harry in honor of the groundskeeper at the time, Harry Oakman. She was eventually transferred to the Gold Coast’s Fleay’s Fauna Sanctuary, where David Fleay discovered that Harry was, in fact, a Harriet. (Source: ABC News)
Where Did Harriet Live?
Harriet spent the last two decades of her life in the lap of luxury at her Australia Zoo home in Beerwah, where she was watched over and loved by the Irwins. Harriet had a wonderful friendship with Steve and his entire family over the years, and she was always considered an honorary grandmother. Harriet spent her days at Australia Zoo, receiving attention and affection from people of all ages while eating an assortment of fresh vegetables, greens, and hibiscus flowers, her favorite. (Source: ABC News)
Harriet’s 175 Birthday Cakes
According to DNA testing, Harriet was at least one generation older than any other tortoise in Australia. This, combined with historical record research, is how we traced her story back in time. But how could we tell which day of the week it was? With some knowledge of the reproductive habits of giant land tortoises on the Galapagos Islands, we deduced that most tortoises hatch in November, so we chose November 15th to celebrate her birthday.
The Zoo was always a popular and exciting place to be during these celebrations. People would travel all over Australia to pay their respects to the world’s oldest living animal. Harriet’s intriguing history usually drew people to her initially, but her charming personality and affectionate nature won hearts in the end.
Harriet’s great 175th birthday was celebrated in 2005. Among the thousands of partygoers were a slew of TV, radio, and print journalists eager to capture the historic occasion. Harriet received gifts, birthday cards, and well wishes worldwide, in addition to extensive international press coverage.
Harriet weighed 330 pounds, was the size of a large dinner table, and was the center of attention at the Australian Zoo. She provided biologists with a unique insight into the potential longevity of giant tortoise species, with only 15,000 tortoises left in the Galapagos and three of the original 14 subspecies now extinct. (Source: ABC News)
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