Last Chance to See

Last Chance to See

by Douglas Adams, Mark Carwardine


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New York Times bestselling author Douglas Adams and zoologist Mark Carwardine take off around the world in search of exotic, endangered creatures.

Join them as they encounter the animal kingdom in its stunning beauty, astonishing variety, and imminent peril: the giant Komodo dragon of Indonesia, the helpless but loveable Kakapo of New Zealand, the blind river dolphins of China, the white rhinos of Zaire, the rare birds of Mauritius island in the Indian Ocean. Hilarious and poignant—as only Douglas Adams can be—Last Chance to See is an entertaining and arresting odyssey through the Earth’s magnificent wildlife galaxy.
Praise for Last Chance to See
“Lively, sharply satirical, brilliantly written . . . shows how human care can undo what human carelessness has wrought.”—The Atlantic

“These authors don’t hesitate to present the alarming facts: More than 1,000 species of animals (and plants) become extinct every year. . . . Perhaps Adams and Carwardine, with their witty science, will help prevent such misadventures in the future.”—Boston Sunday Herald
“Very funny and moving . . . The glimpses of rare fauna seem to have enlarged [Adams’s] thinking, enlivened his world; and so might the animals do for us all, if we were to help them live.”—The Washington Post Book World
“[Adams] invites us to enter into a conspiracy of laughter and caring.”Los Angeles Times
“Amusing . . . thought-provoking . . . Its details on the heroic efforts being made to save these animals are inspirational.”The New York Times Book Review

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780345371980
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/28/1992
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 77,342
Product dimensions: 5.12(w) x 8.02(h) x 0.53(d)

About the Author

Douglas Adams was born in 1952 and educated at Cambridge. He was the author of five books in the Hitchhiker’s Trilogy, including The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy; The Restaurant at the End of the Universe; Life, the Universe and Everything; So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish; and Mostly Harmless. His other works include Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective AgencyThe Long Dark Tea-Time of the SoulThe Meaning of Liff and The Deeper Meaning of Liff (with John Lloyd); and Last Chance to See (with Mark Carwardine). His last book was the bestselling collection, The Salmon of Doubt, published posthumously in May 2002. 
Mark Carwardine is a zoologist, an outspoken conservationist, an award-winning writer, a BBC radio and TV presenter, a widely published wildlife photographer, a bestselling author, a wildlife tour operator and leader, a lecturer, and a magazine columnist. He co-presented the popular BBC TV series Last Chance to See with actor and comedian Stephen Fry, in which the unlikely duo followed in the footsteps of Carwardine’s original travels with Douglas Adams. Carwardine has written more than fifty books, including Field Guide to Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises; Mark Carwardine’s Guide to Whale Watching in North America; Mark Carwardine’s Guide to Whale Watching in Britain and Europe; Extreme Nature; The Guinness Book of Animal Records; Mark Carwardine’s Ultimate Wildlife Experiences; The Shark-Watcher’s Handbook; and On the Trail of the Whale.

Read an Excerpt

THIS ISN’T AT ALL WHAT I expected. In 1985, by some sort of journalistic accident, I was sent to Madagascar with Mark Carwardine to look for an almost extinct form of lemur called the aye-aye. None of the three of us had met before. I had never met Mark, Mark had never met me, and no one, apparently, had seen an aye-aye in years.
This was the idea of the Observer Colour Magazine, to throw us all in at the deep end. Mark is an extremely experienced and knowledgeable zoologist who was working at that time for the World Wildlife Fund, and his role, essentially, was to be the one who knew what he was talking about. My role, and one for which I was entirely qualified, was to be an extremely ignorant non-zoologist to whom everything that happened would come as a complete surprise. All the aye-aye had to do was do what aye-ayes have been doing for millions of years; sit in a tree and hide.
The aye-aye is a nocturnal lemur. It is a very strange-looking creature that seems to have been assembled from bits of other animals. It looks a little like a large cat with a bat’s ears, a beaver’s teeth, a tail like a large ostrich feather, a middle finger like a long dead twig, and enormous eyes that seem to peer past you into a totally different world which exists just over your left shoulder.
Like virtually everything that lives on Madagascar, it does not exist anywhere else on earth. Its origins date back to a period in earth’s history when Madagascar was still part of mainland Africa (which itself had been part of the gigantic supercontinent of Gondwanaland), at which time the ancestors of the Madagascan lemurs were the dominant primate in all the world. When Madagascar sheered off into the Indian Ocean, it became entirely isolated from all the evolutionary changes that took place in the rest of the world. It is a life raft from a different time. It is now almost like a tiny, fragile, separate planet.
The major evolutionary change that passed Madagascar by was the arrival of the monkeys. These were descended from the same ancestors as the lemurs, but they had bigger brains, and were aggressive competitors for the same habitat. Where the lemurs had been content to hang around in trees having a good time, the monkeys were ambitious, and interested in all sorts of things, especially twigs, with which they found they could do all kinds of things that they couldn’t do by themselves—dig for things, probe things, hit things. The monkeys took over the world and the lemur branch of the primate family died out everywhere—other than on Madagascar, which for millions of years the monkeys never reached.
Then fifteen hundred years ago, the monkeys finally arrived, or at least the monkeys’ descendants—us. Thanks to astounding advances in twig technology, we arrived in canoes, then boats, and finally airplanes, and once again started to compete for use of the same habitat, only this time with fire and machetes and domesticated animals, with asphalt and concrete. The lemurs are once again fighting for survival.
My airplane full of monkey descendants arrived at Antananarivo airport. Mark, who had gone out ahead to make the arrangements for the expedition, met me for the first time there and explained the setup.
“Everything’s gone wrong,” he said.
He was tall, dark, and laconic and had a slight nervous tic. He explained that he used to be just tall, dark, and laconic, but that the events of the last few days had rather got to him. At least he tried to explain this. He had lost his voice, he croaked, due to a lot of recent shouting.
“I nearly telexed you not to come,” he said. “The whole thing’s a nightmare. I’ve been here for five days and I’m still waiting for something to go right. The Ambassador in Brussels promised me that the Ministry of Agriculture would be able to provide us with two Land Rovers and a helicopter. Turns out all they’ve got is a moped and it doesn’t work.
“The Ambassador in Brussels also assured me that we could drive right to the north, but the road suddenly turns out to be impassable because it’s being rebuilt by the Chinese, only we’re not supposed to know that. And exactly what is meant by ‘suddenly’ I don’t know because they’ve apparently been at it for ten years.
“Anyway, I think I’ve managed to sort something out, but we have to hurry,” he added. “The plane to the jungle leaves in two hours and we have to be on it. We’ve just got time to dump your surplus baggage at the hotel if we’re quick. Er, some of it is surplus, isn’t it?” He looked anxiously at the pile of bags that I was lugging, and then with increasing alarm at the cases of Nikon camera bodies, lenses, and tripods that our photographer, Alain le Garsmeur, who had been with me on the plane, was busy loading into the minibus.
“Oh, that reminds me,” Mark said, “I’ve just found out that we probably won’t be allowed to take any film out of the country.”
I climbed rather numbly into the minibus. After thirteen hours on the plane from Paris, I was tired and disoriented and had been looking forward to a shower, a shave, a good night’s sleep, and then maybe a gentle morning trying gradually to find Madagascar on the map over a pot of tea. I tried to pull myself together and get a grip. I suddenly had not the faintest idea what I, a writer of humorous science-fiction adventures, was doing here. I sat blinking in the glare of the tropical sun and wondered what on earth Mark was expecting of me. He was hurrying around, tipping one porter, patiently explaining to another porter that he hadn’t actually carried any of our bags, conducting profound negotiations with the driver, and gradually pulling some sort of order out of the chaos.
Madagascar, I thought. Aye-aye, I thought. A nearly extinct lemur. Heading out to the jungle in two hours’ time. I desperately needed to sound bright and intelligent.
“Er, do you think we’re actually going to get to see this animal?” I asked Mark as he climbed in and slammed the door. He grinned at me.
“Well, the Ambassador in Brussels said we haven’t got a hope in hell,” he said, “so we may just be in with a chance. Welcome,” he added as we started the slow pothole slalom into town, “to Madagascar.”
Antananarivo is pronounced Tananarive, and for much of this century has been spelt that way as well. When the French took over Madagascar at the end of the last century (“colonised” is probably too kind a word for moving in on a country that was doing perfectly well for itself but which the French simply took a fancy to), they were impatient with the curious Malagasy habit of not bothering to pronounce the first and last syllables of place names. They decided, in their rational Gallic way, that if that was how the names were pronounced then they could damn well be spelt that way too. It would be rather as if someone had taken over England and told us that from now on we would be spelling Leicester “Lester” and liking it. We might be forced to spell it that way, but we wouldn’t like it, and neither did the Malagasy. As soon as they managed to divest themselves of French rule, in 1960, they promptly reinstated all the old spellings and just kept the cooking and the bureaucracy. One of the more peculiar things that has happened to me is that as a result of an idea I had as a penniless hitchhiker sleeping in fields and telephone boxes, publishers now send me around the world on expensive author tours and put me up in the sort of hotel room where you have to open several doors before you find the bed. In fact, I was arriving in Antananarivo directly from a U.S. author tour which was exactly like that, and so my first reaction to finding myself sleeping on concrete floors in spider-infested huts in the middle of the jungle was, oddly enough, one of fantastic relief. Weeks of mind-numbing American Expressness dropped away like mud in the shower and I was able to lie back and enjoy being wonderfully, serenely, hideously uncomfortable. I could tell that Mark didn’t realise this and was at first rather anxious showing me to my patch of floor—“Er, will this be all right? I was told there would be mattresses.… Um, can we fluff up the concrete a little for you?”—and I had to keep on saying, “You don’t understand. This is great, this is wonderful, I’ve been looking forward to this for weeks.”

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Last Chance to See 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 37 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I truly didn't think non-fiction material could be so entertaining!!! I was laughing out loud by page 3. The authors did an excellent job of portraying their travels in a manner in which all of us can relate. The information is so interesting, you don't even realize the substance is informational. Schools should hire these authors - students would really enjoy learning. You will be so glad you chose this one. My book club pals all gave it a definite thumbs up!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Follow Adam¿s hilarious journey around the world in quest of endangered species. In Last Chance to see, Douglas informs us about various endangered species and explains the importance of keeping these creatures alive. Mostly comedy, with dashes of seriousness, this book is a must read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Its a fun read with insight and much humor. For me it seems impossible to read without David Attenborough's voice as the reader's voice (in my imagination of course.). I recommend!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Last Chance to See made me want to cry, but the problem was that I was already laughing. Because of this book I know what I want to do with my life. Douglas Adams is an incredible author and him and Mark Carwardine did a fantastic job with this book.
callmecayce on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I'd watched the Stephen Fry documentary that was a sort of follow up to this book/radio series (which I wish I could get a copy of) and was curious about the first journey. I'm not a big fan of Adams', but after reading this book, I'm more than willing to give Hitchhiker's another try. Last Chance To See is both hilarious (as if anything written by Adams could be serious all the time) and serious. The animals that Adams gets to see are dying out, or close to it. He gives us, through pictures and words, a trip we won't forget, just like the TV series with Fry. What makes this interesting and not your traditional run of the mill endangered species book is the humor that's twisted intimately with the places and animals they're going to see. If you liked the Stephen Fry docu, I recommend this book.
VirginiaGill on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is a great read. I've read it several times and loaned it out more times than I can count. Without fail it is returned with comments like "Awesome! A truly awesome book!"
jgelinmi on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is one of the prizes of my small collection since it was very difficult for me to get a hold of. For some reason, it is not being published any more and my dad had to hunt through several websites until he finally found it for sale. (Best Christmas gift Evah!) The book itself is very moving. It describes the condition of endangered animals and it is heart breaking to see what could be done, as well as what is being done by a handful of dedicated individuals. This was Adam's greatest book since the original Hitchhiker's series and it puts his witty prose to great use. If you have a chance to buy it, I highly recommend it
sa54d on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Better than most any pedantic or "preachy" diatribe about the plight of endangered species. This shows how humor and wit prove much more effective than bombast. I dare anyone not to laugh themselves silly while reading about the search for a way to waterproof a microphone.
Lenaphoenix on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Mark Carwardine was a zoologist working for the World Wildlife Fund when he was hired by a magazine to take Douglas Adams to see the world¿s rarest nocturnal lemur, the Madagascar aye-aye. The trip was enough of a success that they decided having Adams write funny things about his attempt to visit endangered species was a good way to raise awareness about animal conservation, so they reunited a few years later to track down some other animals whose numbers have fallen into the double digits. The resulting collection of ecology/travel essays is hands down one of my all time favorite books. During the course of their travels, Carwardine and Adams go to Indonesia to visit the Komodo dragon, Zaire to see the Northern White rhinoceros, New Zealand to see the Kakapo parrot, China to see the Yangtzee River dolphin and Mauritius to see the Rodrigues fruit bat. Adams¿ style of absurdist humor is particularly well-suited to detailing the problems involved in merely getting to the places where these animals are supposed to be, since they are frequently located rather inconveniently in remote areas of third world countries. His front line reports set the stage by being laugh out loud funny, keeping us so entertained and open that by the time we finally do get to meet these precarious creatures, we have no choice but to care about them and their fates as much as our intrepid reporters do.
kalanasse on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a great book! I got my copy signed at his last talk at the University of California at Santa Barbara the month before he passed away.
Terpsichoreus on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Adams is an amazingly humorous fellow, but it can be easy to forget that the source of his humor is always surreal profundity. It's as if he sees a completely different world than the rest of us, but one which looks precisely the same. In this book (out-of-print when I found an editor's proof copy) Adams takes that hilariously disparate view and directs it like a spastic and noodly laser at the mis-management of our world. There is a reason that Richard Dawkins recalls Adams so fondly as a compatriot in the fight for reason. Adams is as honest, sublime, and disarming as ever.I personally don't believe in a static view of nature. A lot of species extinction is merely the natural process, but sustainability and wonder must also be considered when we decide what it is we want from this world
Devil_llama on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
No, 5 stars is not too excessie for a book that can make you laugh and cry at the same time, out of genuine pleasure and genuine grief. This non-fiction work lacks none of the humor of Adam's sci-fi, and some of the characters are just as far-out and colorful. Although i usually dislike endangered species books that focus so much on the personalities of the people, Adams can pull it off, though I certainly am not able to explain exactly why. Let's just say, it works. And this book is truly a call to action, which has unfortunately been largely unheard, as have most other calls for action. In a world that immediately dismisses most environmental books as "shrill", when one is published that cannot in any way, shape, or form be considered such, it becomes too obvious that the ability to ignore is vaster than the oceans. Douglas Adams speaks with a rare voice, and this book should be required reading by all who open a business, run for office, or vote.
LMLiem on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is an absolutely amazing book and my favorite of all books written by the great Douglas Adams. The stories about his travels with zoologist Mark Carwadine in search of endangered species are both extremely funny and incredibly sad. Even if you're not an active environmentalist, this book makes you think about the impact we humans have on our environment and how difficult it is to change attitudes and superstition.
reading_fox on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Douglas Adams travel memoir. Rather than just going on holiday somewhere a rmabling discssion lead to a BBC contract. DNA would go and try and find some rare animals, and explain a bit about their plight. They'd send along a dedicated naturalist - Mark Carwardine, and a film/sound crew. This is the book of that year or so's travels. It was undertaken in 1988 when the global society was very different. It is still well worth reading.I don't know who picked the list of animals to visit. There are some straage inclusions and as is usual with any list also some strange omissions. Having travelled all the way to China and endured some off the main routes accomadation, they manage to visit the extremely rare chinese rviver dolphins. However they then don't bother with a detour to see the famous (and only slightly less endangered) Giant Pandas. DNA also reveals his disinterest in birds. Which is a bit odd, as quite a few of the animals they go to see are birds.DNA does describe the various passionate people he meets on his travels, those who have given up all thoughts of comfort, pensions, and a daily job, in order to help preserve these endangered animals that only exist on odd sheltered islands. Although he tries, he never quite manages to explain why it matters but thoughts about whether it does matter or not are interestesting.Well worth reading.
isabelx on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
'All right, you've read the guide book. But do you know about the birds here? Don't you know about the pink pigeon? The echo parakeet? Don't you know about the Mauritius kestrel?''Yes, but . . . ''Then why are you going off to the stupid island of Rodrigues to look for some ridiculous fruitbat? We've got a bunch of them at the captive breeding centre if you really want to see one. Common as muck, stupid things. You'd be much better off staying here and seeing some real stuff. Jesus!'A re-read. The book of the radio series in which Douglas Adams and zoologist Mark Carwardine travelled to remote parts of the world in an attempt to see some of the world's most endangered creatures, from New Zealand's kakapo, the world's largest, fattest and least-able-to-fly parrot, to China's Baiji, the Yangtzee river dolphin.'There you are,' said Richard, pointing at a large cage off to one side in which someone appeared to have hung a number of small broken umbrellas, 'Rodrigues fruitbats. You can relax now, you've seen 'em. Look at them later, they're boring. They're nothing to what else we've got here. Pink pigeons for a start . . . this place has got some of the rarest, sexiest birds in the world.
whitewavedarling on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is a compelling read and journey that combines humor and fact to draw any reader in if they're at all interested in animals or conservation. Even the non-nature lover could be drawn in by the style of Douglas Adams' writing, but the facts never come in second. On a side note, I found this book long ago and became especially interested in the River Dolphin that Adams describes. This past year, the same Yangtze River Dolphin finally became extinct, as predicted, and is the first of the animals in the book to disappear. If you're looking for documentation of environmental harm or the world's most endangered species in the nineties, this is the book to pick up. Still, it's not as depressing as it sounds. There are cases of success in the book, and the writers do a strong job of appreciating success as well as documenting our failures along the way. This book is highly recommended, whether you're a fan of Adams or not.
buckeyeaholic on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Another great one by Douglas Adams. What a loss when he passed away.
Omrythea on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
My favorite part was his explanation of wearing the rhino suit to save the rhinos. Not a bad read, but not excellent either. Still, it is Douglas Adams, so that makes it must-read.
franhigg on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In this book Douglas Adams, a writer of humorous science-fiction novels, and Mark Carwardine, a zoologist, recount the events of 1988 when they visited some of the world's most endangered species to make programmes for BBC Radio. It was not clear at the outset quite what Adams's qualifications were for such an enterprise, and unfortunately it is not clear by the end, although the book has been mainly written by him, with Carwardine's contributions, inasmuch as one can identifying them, appearing as passages of reported speech in which he expatiates on the species of the moment. The five substantive chapters each deal with a particular species, and there are excellent colour photographs to accompany the text.Adams writes most entertainingly, but there can be little doubt that, like all humorists, he milks any given situation for all it's worth, and this sits uneasily with the much more serious purpose of the book (and presumably the BBC series) of drawing attention to the plight of endangered species. When part of the book is clearly written for effect, it makes you wonder about the veracity of the rest of it, although fortunately Carwardine is there to provide a more scientific viewpoint.The book therefore requires little intellectual involvement on the part of the reader (I read it in one day), and so would make an excellent choice for the beach or a long plane journey. It is a pleasure to read provided that one does not expect very much, but nevertheless has just sufficient content to make the time expended worthwhile. On the other hand, you may feel faintly annoyed (as I did) at the implicit assumption that you are only interested in the subject because it is being presented by a 'celebrity' author.
Crowyhead on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A hilarious and sometimes moving account of Douglas Adams' quest to see some of the world's most endangered animals.
awilson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Supposed to be about finding endangered species; but it's a better book about Douglas Adams' travels to remote areas of the world.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well-researched and humorous, the insights from this book are still relevant and important to today's environmental issues.
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