Story: In 1988, Douglas Adams joined naturalist Mark Carwardine on a series of expeditions to personally see some of the world’s most critically endangered animals in their natural habitats. On some occasions this entailed putting up with the neighbors with whom those animals share their habitats, and those neighbors are among the world’s most dangerous animals. Adams relates the experiences of not only seeing these rare forms of life on the edge of extinction, but of the less-glamorous process of finding them, and the even-less-glamorous bureaucratic mazes that had to be navigated in order to begin that process.
Review: I hadn’t read this book until a few weeks before the fifth anniversary of Douglas Adams’ death, and it’s a great pity, for this may well be one of the best entries in the tragically brief body of Adams’ written work. It’s written in his trademark style, if a good deal more earnestly because rather than chronicling fantastical happens that have never actually happened, Adams is here chronicling fantastic happenings that happen to have happened to him personally. The sense of wonder at seeing some of the world’s rarest creatures is palpable, as is a growing sense of uneasiness about how humanity is impacting their shrinking environments.
Part of that unease comes from the equation that keeps these animals’ refuges operating: their rarity leads to human curiosity,a market springs up to service that curiosity with sighting tours and so on, and that market funds the wildlife operations that preserve the creatures in question. But numerous times, Adams comments on what humanity is doing to destroy its own history too. This book and the series of expeditions that spawned it – originally recorded for BBC Radio – mark the awakenings of Adams’ ecological and scientific activism, and that growing sense of wonder goes hand in hand with a growing sense that something must be done.
Not that it isn’t funny, mind you. In places, it’s side-splittingly funny, but in a way that works even better when juxtaposed with the rising sense that, rather than writing about worlds teeming with life being “paved over” with hyperspace bypasses, real creatures of our own very real world are on the brink of non-existence. It’s hysterical in places, and quite sobering in others.
It’s a pity that Adams didn’t get another crack at a book like this. As he continued to expand his own knowledge, he only would’ve become a more eloquent advocate for some of the issues touched on in “Last Chance To See”, and I highly recommend it to you because it’s a series of stories that, the obvious qualification of having personally been there himself aside, he was uniquely suited to tell.
Author: Douglas Adams, Mark Carwardine