At 172 years of age, Harriet the giant Galápagos land tortoise is the oldest known living creature on Earth.
Born in November 1830 on an island in the Galápagos, Harriet spent the earliest years of her life in the wild.
In 1835, when Harriet was only 5 years old and about the size of a dinner plate, noted English naturalist Charles Darwin landed on Isla Santa Cruz, her home. Shortly thereafter, Harriet and two of her friends found themselves aboard the HMS Beagle headed for England, marked as subjects of scientific research.
But her stay in England was brief. Harriet was recruited for a second voyage aboard the Beagle in 1837, this time under the care of Commander John Wickham, who led the crew on an extensive survey of the Australian coast.
In 1842, Harriet was allowed to hang up her "sailor's cap" for good. Wickham donated the youthful 12-year-old tortoise to Brisbane Botanical Gardens in Queensland, where she began a new life on land.
Harriet's Brisbane caretakers mistook her for a male, dubbing her "Harry." For the next 100 years, they tried in vain to mate her with other female Galapagos land tortoises.
When Harriet wasn't being coaxed into unnatural encounters with fellow tortoises, she gave "piggyback" rides to children.
Harriet was moved to Fleay's Fauna Sanctuary on Australia's Gold Coast in 1952, where, in the 1960s, it was finally discovered that she was in fact a female.
She made her final move in 1988 to the Australia Zoo, where she will spend the rest of her life.
Harriet has a beautiful nature and loves attention from people. She is definitely a favorite among zoo staff and loves nothing more than a big pat or a good scratch along her shell.
At 330 pounds, Harriet spends much of the day snoozing in her pond.
She loves to eat hibiscus flowers, along with zucchini, squash, beans, parsley, endives and bok choy.
Name: Giant Galápagos Land Tortoise (Geochelone nigra porteri)
Primary Classification: Chelonia (Tortoises and Turtles)
Location: The Galapagos archipelago. (Harriet is a subspecies from Santa Cruz Island.)
Habitat: Varies between grassy, arid lava soils and lush, highland cloud forests.
Diet: Prickly pear cactuses, fruits, water ferns, leaves and grasses.
Size: Up to 6 ft in length and over 500 lbs in weight.
Description: Huge, black, horny carapace (or shell), which varies in size and shape among
subspecies. (Harriet has a dome-shaped shell rather than a saddle-shaped one.) Long neck. Strong, curved mouth with toothless jaws. Massive limbs with scaly feet and short toes.
Conservation Status: Vulnerable
Major Threats: Predation and competition from introduced species.
What Can I Do?: Visit The Charles Darwin Foundation, the Galápagos Conservation Trust and the Tortoise Trust for information on how you can help.