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`Darwin's Tortoise' Is Dead

Harriet was 176. She was believed to have been taken from Galapagos by the naturalist.

June 25, 2006|From the Associated Press

SYDNEY, Australia — A 176-year-old tortoise that was possibly one of the world's oldest living creatures, and believed by some to have once been in Charles Darwin's possession, has died of heart failure.

The giant tortoise, known as Harriet, died at the Queensland-based Australia Zoo owned by "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin and his wife, Terri.

Irwin said Saturday that Harriet's death was "not only a great loss for the world but a very sad day for my family. She was a grand old lady."

Harriet was long reputed to have been one of three tortoises taken from the Galapagos Islands by Charles Darwin on his historic 1835 voyage aboard the HMS Beagle.

However, historical records, while suggestive, don't prove the claim. Some scientists have cast doubt on the story, with DNA tests confirming Harriet's age but showing she came from an island that Darwin never visited.

According to local legend, Harriet was just 5 and probably no bigger than a dinner plate when she was taken from the Galapagos to Britain.

The tortoise spent a few years in Britain before being moved to the Brisbane Botanic Gardens in Australia's tropical Queensland state in the mid-1800s.

Harriet was believed to be the world's oldest living tortoise and one of its oldest living creatures.

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