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Learning English - Words in the News
23 June, 2006 - Published 13:37 GMT
The world's oldest tortoise dies
Harriet the tortoise

A giant Galapagos tortoise, the world's oldest known living creature, has died in Australia at the age of a hundred and seventy six. Harriet the tortoise passed away after a short illness. Experts believe the elderly creature, that weighed a hundred and fifty kilograms, was once the personal pet of the British naturalist, Charles Darwin. This report from Phil Mercer:

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Harriet died peacefully in her enclosure at a zoo in northern Australia where she was the star attraction. It's believed this enormous tortoise was captured in the Galapagos islands off the coast of Ecuador in the mid-1830s. There it was apparently studied by Charles Darwin while he was working on his theory of evolution. The naturalist took several young tortoises with him back to London. Many experts believe that Harriet was among them, although no-one's really quite sure.

It's possible that she ended up in Australia after being given to a naval officer who moved to Brisbane. Scientists have suggested, however, that Harriet may not have been one of Darwin's pets. DNA tests have shown that this giant creature belonged to a subspecies of tortoise found on an island that the British explorer never visited.

This famous reptile was the size of a dinner table when it died. For over a century, Harriet was mistaken as a male and was called Harry. Australian vets believe she suffered a heart attack that brought to an end an extraordinary life.

Phil Mercer, BBC, Sydney

Listen to the words

passed away

a domestic or tamed animal kept for pleasure or companionship

an area shut in on all sides (with four walls but no roof)

the star attraction
very popular among visitors

very big

gradual development from a simple to a more complex form

serving with the Navy

very big

a fairly permanent geographically isolated variety

unusual, remarkable

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