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Herps In The News Local or national articles where reptiles or amphibians have made it into the news media. Please cite sources.

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Old 06-26-2006, 09:12 PM   #1
Clay Davenport
The world's oldest tortoise, Harriet, dies at 176

A giant Galapagos tortoise, the world's oldest known living creature, has died in Australia at the age of a hundred and seventy six. Harriet the tortoise passed away after a short illness. Experts believe the elderly creature, that weighed a hundred and fifty kilograms, was once the personal pet of the British naturalist, Charles Darwin.

Harriet died peacefully in her enclosure at a zoo in northern Australia where she was the star attraction. It's believed this enormous tortoise was captured in the Galapagos islands off the coast of Ecuador in the mid-1830s. There it was apparently studied by Charles Darwin while he was working on his theory of evolution. The naturalist took several young tortoises with him back to London. Many experts believe that Harriet was among them, although no-one's really quite sure.

It's possible that she ended up in Australia after being given to a naval officer who moved to Brisbane. Scientists have suggested, however, that Harriet may not have been one of Darwin's pets. DNA tests have shown that this giant creature belonged to a subspecies of tortoise found on an island that the British explorer never visited.

This famous reptile was the size of a dinner table when it died. For over a century, Harriet was mistaken as a male and was called Harry. Australian vets believe she suffered a heart attack that brought to an end an extraordinary life.

Old 06-26-2006, 09:13 PM   #2
Clay Davenport
Irwin selects a natural burial for Harriet

STEVE Irwin has angered the family of an eminent naturalist with his plan to bury Harriet, a Galapagos tortoise claimed to have been the world's oldest living creature.

Alongside the crocodiles that made Irwin famous, Harriet was a star attraction at Australia Zoo on Queensland's Sunshine Coast until her death last Friday of heart failure.

Irwin and his wife, Terri, want a private memorial service for Harriet when the tortoise - said to have been 176 years old - is buried at the zoo this week.

Irwin claims in the zoo's promotional material that the tortoise was collected by Charles Darwin in the Galapagos Islands in 1835, during the voyage that shaped his theory of evolution.

Before being sent to Australia Zoo in the late 1980s, Harriet lived for 40 years at Fleay's Fauna Reserve on the Gold Coast. The reserve was owned by the late David Fleay, an internationally renowned naturalist.

Fleay's daughter, Rosemary Fleay-Thompson, said yesterday Harriet was one of the last of a distinctive subspecies of tortoise found only on Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos.

Ms Fleay-Thompson said she was disturbed at the prospect of Harriet being buried.

"It really would be a terrible waste. She is a very interesting animal scientifically and she should be kept as a specimen in the interests of science," Ms Fleay-Thompson said.

But Australia Zoo curator Kelsey Moulton said the Irwins were keen for the tortoise to be buried at the zoo.

"Putting her in a museum would be like selling your grandmother for science," she said.

The 150kg tortoise, listed by Guinness World Records as the planet's oldest living animal, died in time for Canberra author Anthony Hill to update the manuscript of a book he has written about Harriet.

Contrary to Irwin's claim, Hill said several tortoises collected by Darwin in the Galapagos came from James Island and not Santa Cruz, Harriet's birthplace.

However, Harriet was suspected of being one of three tortoises brought to Brisbane in the mid-1800s by government official John Wickham, who was an officer on Darwin's ship, The Beagle.

Although Australia Zoo held a 175th birthday party for Harriet last year, Hill said it was not possible to determine her age.

"All the DNA analysis tells us is that she was older and genetically diverse from the current tortoise population.

"She could have been born in 1830 or 1870. She was a very old animal, however."


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