15 November 2005
IF only she could talk. As the oldest living animal on the planet, Harriet the tortoise must have a few interesting tales to tell.
Her claim to fame is officially acknowledged by the Guinness Book of Records, and today the Galapagos Island giant land tortoise celebrates her 175th birthday.
Harriet has led not just a long life but an extraordinary one in which she has been associated with naturalist Charles Darwin and more recently Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin.
For more than a century of her life she was known as Harry until it was belatedly discovered she was actually a female.
Harriet has spent the past 18 years as a star attraction at Australia Zoo at Beerwah, where a huge party has been organised for the milestone.
The giant herbivore will feast on her favourite feed of hibiscus flowers while Zoo guests can share “a cake as big as Harriet”, says Zoo spokeswoman Laura Campbell.
Irwin and his family won’t be there to join the celebrations as they are presently in America.
Harriet is not the oldest known animal to have lived. That honour goes to another Galapagos tortoise which was once owned by the King of Tonga and died aged 188.
“We’re well and truly hoping Harriet lives a lot longer than that and she’s still very healthy,” Ms Campbell said yesterday.
Although some of Harriet’s history is in dispute, Australia Zoo staff believe she was born on the Galapagos Islands off South America in 1830. They think she was hatched in November of that year and chose November 15 as her birthday.