What’s the Connection Between Charles Darwin and Steve Irwin?
In June 2006, one of the world’s oldest tortoises passed away at the Australia Zoo. Harriet was about 175 years old. About three months later, zookeeper Steve Irwin died after being pierced in the chest by a stingray barb while filming at the Great Barrier Reef. Known worldwide as "The Crocodile Hunter” of cable TV fame, Irwin was later buried at the zoo.
The story would have been even more poignant if the legend about Harriet's origins could be proved true. For decades, it was thought that she had been found by Charles Darwin when the renowned British naturalist made his historic 1835 voyage to the Galapagos Islands aboard the HMS Beagle. But many scientists have been skeptical about the connection between Darwin and Harriet, pointing out that DNA tests show that the giant tortoise belonged to a subspecies found on Santa Cruz, an island Darwin never visited.
A turtle, a crocodile hunter, and the father of evolution:
- Harriet became an international conservation icon and a beloved resident at the Australia Zoo. She lived in England before Darwin’s friend, John Wickham, took her to the warmer climate of Australia in 1842.
- For more than 100 years, Harriet lived at the Brisbane Botanical Gardens but was called Harry because she was thought to be male. She lived out her final years at the Australia Zoo, cared for by Irwin and his family.
- When she died of heart failure, Harriet weighed 330 pounds (150 kg). She gave biologists valuable insights into the potential longevity of giant tortoise species.
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