STEVE Irwin has angered the family of an eminent naturalist with his plan to bury Harriet, a Galapagos tortoise claimed to have been the world's oldest living creature. Alongside the crocodiles that made Irwin famous, Harriet was a star attraction at Australia Zoo on Queensland's Sunshine Coast until her death last Friday of heart failure. Irwin and his wife, Terri, want a private memorial service for Harriet when the tortoise - said to have been 176 years old - is buried at the zoo this week.
The daughter of Harriet's previous owner expresses disquiet:
Ms Fleay-Thompson said she was disturbed at the prospect of Harriet being buried. "It really would be a terrible waste. She is a very interesting animal scientifically and she should be kept as a specimen in the interests of science," Ms Fleay-Thompson said. But Australia Zoo curator Kelsey Moulton said the Irwins were keen for the tortoise to be buried at the zoo. "Putting her in a museum would be like selling your grandmother for science," she said.
Who mentioned anything about "selling"? And what if your grandmother (Harriet was not Irwin's grandmother, at least to EoR's knowledge) was a unique specimen?
The news report also states that a Canberra author, Anthony Hill, is currently working on a book about Harriet, and provides some better information about the myths that have grown around her.
Contrary to Irwin's claim, Hill said several tortoises collected by Darwin in the Galapagos came from James Island and not Santa Cruz, Harriet's birthplace. However, Harriet was suspected of being one of three tortoises brought to Brisbane in the mid-1800s by government official John Wickham, who was an officer on Darwin's ship, The Beagle. Although Australia Zoo held a 175th birthday party for Harriet last year, Hill said it was not possible to determine her age. "All the DNA analysis tells us is that she was older and genetically diverse from the current tortoise population. "She could have been born in 1830 or 1870. She was a very old animal, however."