14 November 1997
HARRIET is happily celebrating, tortoise-style... and as the oldest recorded animal in the world, she deserves to.
Harriet's movements may be slow and laborious, and on or two wrinkles are evident around her neck, but no one could say she looks her age.
Harriet – the pride of Beerwah's Queensland Reptile Park – turns 167 today.
"She had been DNA tested, so we are positive about her age," said Kelly Zontanos, QRP marketing officer and Harriet-fan.
Kelly admits that Harriet is the park favourite, who adores human attention and thrives on hibiscus blooms.
"She looks for her rub and back scrub every morning, and gets rose and hibiscus petals for special treats," Kelly said, noting that Harriet actually growls when not getting enough attention.
Her life story is a fantastic one, filled with historical moments and much travel.
Harriet is a Giant Galapagos Land Tortoise, who hatched in 1830 on the Galapagos Islands.
"We aren't sure of the exact day, but we celebrate today because that's when she arrived here," Kelly said.
At the age of five, Harriet (then a dinner plate-sized youngster) was picked up by Sir Charles Darwin.
He took her back to England by ship with him for research.
In 1842, a colleague of Darwin's brought her to Australia.
While dome documents of her long history have been lost in fires, Harriet lived in the Brisbane Botanical Gardens and Fleay's Animal Park before making he Queensland Reptile Park home 10 years ago.
Today she weighs more than 180kg and her enormous shell is the size of a wheelbarrow.
Sadly, Harriet is one of just five remaining in her species – the Geochelone nigra porteri.
Those visiting the park today can help Harriet celebrate her birthday, with the Mexican-theme party lasting all day.
A piñata, in Harriet's image and stuffed with lollies, will be ready for the children, and the 167th visitor will be able to meet this grand old lady "in person".
While the exact lifespan of the Giant Galapagos Land Tortoise is not known, Harriet is expected to make it to her double century.
"She's amazingly healthy... just the odd cold in winter," Kelly noted with an affectionate scratch and final hibiscus offering.
Happy birthday, Harriet!