Friday, June 23, 2006

“She Was a Grand Old Lady”

[[O B I T]] * How’d you like to live to the exceedingly ripe old age of 176? Imagine the myriad sights you would have to recall at the end of such a life, and the umpteen experiences you’d have logged over all of those decades. What a resource of history and culture you would have become at such an age. Unfortunately, the 176-year-old who passed away after a heart attack in Australia earlier today couldn’t share any of her recollections, for she was a 330-plus-pound tortoise. But not just any tortoise: Harriet, as she was known, is said to have been one of three such animals captured in 1835 by Britain naturalist Charles Darwin, during his studies in South America’s Galápagos Islands, and taken back to England on the HMS Beagle. Those tortoises helped lead Darwin to develop his scientific theories of evolution and natural selection.

Harriet, who outlived her controversial captor, Darwin, by 124 years, spent almost a century of her life at the Brisbane City Botanic Gardens in Queensland, Australia, before being relocated to the Australia Zoo, a facility in Beerwah, Queensland, owned by Steve Irwin, star of the documentary-style TV series The Crocodile Hunter. She’s lived at the Australia Zoo for more than 17 years. The Guiness Book of World Records deemed Harriet the world’s oldest living animal in captivity. For most of her life, however, she was thought to be a he, and went by the name “Harry.” Fortunately, that misconception was cleared up long before she celebrated her 175th birthday last year in the media spotlight, an acclaimed star of Australia’s Sunshine Coast.

“I have grown up with this gorgeous old girl and so have my kids,” Irwin said, following the announcement of Harriet’s unexpected demise. “She is possibly one of the oldest living creatures on the planet and her passing today is not only a great loss for the world but a very sad day for my family. She was a grand old lady.”

So, how did Harriet age so well? Her keepers attribute the old girl’s longevity to a stress-free life (though her first contact with man might have been worrisome: sailors were prone in the 19th century to quickly turn tortoises into soup). Others claim she grew so old because she never mated.

No comments: