17 November 2005

happy happy! joy joy!

Harriet has another claim to fame
KERRY O'BRIEN: Imagine being born in 1830 and still being around to celebrate your birthday. Next week, the Australia Zoo on Queensland's Sunshine Coast will celebrate the 175th birthday of the world's oldest known living animal, a Galapagos tortoise named Harriet that weighs almost 150 kilograms. But Harriet has an extra claim to fame. According to folklore, Charles Darwin adopted her as a personal pet during the historic voyage of HMS Beagle and studied her while working on his theory of evolution. Peter McCutcheon reports.

ROBIN STEWART, AUTHOR, 'DARWIN'S TORTOISE': She's an amazing creature. You've got to see her to get this incredible sort of presence from her.

PETER McCUTCHEON: This giant Galapagos tortoise known as Harriet, has been on the move for nearly 175 years. But being recognised in the Guinness Book of Records as the world's oldest living animal, isn't Harriet's only claim to fame. Many believe this reptile was once the personal pet of the man who pioneered the theory of evolution.

ROBIN STEWART: I believe that Harriet was Darwin's tortoise and that the story is true.

KELSEY MOSTYN, CURATOR, AUSTRALIA ZOO: She's certainly in the right age bracket to fit the story of meeting Darwin, definitely.

PETER McCUTCHEON: But not everyone is convinced. NOEL HALL, HISTORIAN: Personally, I never let the facts get in the way of a good story.

PETER McCUTCHEON: What is known for sure is that British naturalist Charles Darwin took several young Galapagos tortoises with him back to London in 1835 after his famous voyage on the Beagle. Also on that voyage was a young naval officer, John Clements Wickham, who later took up a post as police magistrate in what is now the city of Brisbane. So the story goes, Darwin gave the tortoises to Wickham.

Before anyone tries to revoke my citizenship for celebrating Harriet's birthday, instead of something else, I actually cried when Aloisi's goal hit the net. And jumped up and down a lot. But then, Harriet was born before there was a World Cup.

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