Harriet the Tortoise Dies at 175

ByABC News
June 23, 2006, 4:11 PM

June 23, 2006— -- Harriet the tortoise, one of the world's oldest living creatures with links to famed naturalist Charles Darwin, has died in Australia at age 175.

The giant Galapagos tortoise died of an acute heart attack after suffering from an illness, according to Australian vet John Hangar.

"She had a very fairly acute heart attack, and thankfully, passed away quietly overnight," Hangar told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. "She had been sick yesterday with, in effect, heart failure."

Harriet was one of the main attractions at the Australia Zoo, where TV's "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin and his zoo staff cared for her since 1987. The Australian Zoo claims that in 1835 when she was about the size of a dinner plate, Harriet was taken from the Galapagos Islands by Charles Darwin.

However, many scientists have suggested that Harriet may not have been one of Darwin's pets, because DNA tests have shown that the giant tortoise belonged to a subspecies found on an island that the British explorer never visited.

Whether or not she was ever in Darwin's presence, Harriet was one of the last living creatures to live through the major moments of modern history.

With her date of birth calculated to 1830, Harriet was born while Andrew Jackson was president of the United States. Abraham Lincoln was assassinated when she was 35. She lived through several of the major wars in recorded history, including the Civil War and both World Wars. She was already 82 years old when the Titanic sank in 1912, and Pearl Harbor was attacked as Harriet reached 111.

"The second you tell people Harriet's age they just fall in love with her," keeper Kelly Jackson said last year. "When you look at Harriet, you are looking at history."

Harriet, mistaken as a male for over a century and named Harry, hatched on the Galapagos Islands and traveled the globe before eventually settling at the Australia Zoo, where she remained during the last 17 years of her life.

When she died Thursday night, Harriet was 330 pounds, about the size of a large dinner table and the star attraction at the Australian Zoo. With only 15,000 tortoises left in the Galapagos and three of the original 14 subspecies now extinct, she gave biologists a unique insight into the potential longevity of giant tortoise species.