Last Chance to See by Douglas Adams

In 1989 Douglas Adams (of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy fame) was asked by the BBC to accompany zoologist and conservationist Mark Carwardine, on a series of conservation expeditions. Their task being to investigate some rare and endangered species. The result of this was a BBC radio series, and also one of my favourite books of all time Last Chance to See.

I am not a huge fan of Douglas’ science fiction books (am just not a Sci-Fi fan), but this one combines his writing skills, his wit and a strong ecological/conservation message in a delightful book. I was able to get hold of an audio copy of Douglas’ Readings in Germany, where he reads some chapters out of the book. He had the usually reserved, serious German audience in hysterics.  So if an Englishman can make a bunch of Germans laugh, you’ll probably enjoy it too!

So how did they choose where to go and what to look at? According to Carwardine, they chose the following not-so-scientific method to decide:

“We put a big map of the world on a wall, Douglas stuck a pin in everywhere he fancied going, I stuck a pin in where all the endangered animals were, and we made a journey out of every place that had two pins.”

The expeditions they went on were to see the:

  • Komodo dragon on the island of Komodo in Indonesia
  • Kakapo in New Zealand
  • Mountain Gorilla in Zaire
  • Northern White Rhinoceros in Zaire
  • Yangtze River Dolphin in China
  • Rodrigues fruit bat on the island of Rodrigues, Mauritius
  • Amazonian Manatee in Brazil
  • Juan Fernández Fur Seal on the Juan Fernández Islands, Chile

Unfortunately, this was to be Douglas Adams and Mark Carwardine’s only collaboration on the project. Douglas Adams died way too young in 2001. In 2009 the BBC did a follow-up television series teaming Carwardine with British actor/writer/comedian Stephen Fry. They revisited as many of the original species as possible, to determine what had happened to them in the intervening 20 years. In some cases what they found was encouraging, in others it was a sad story. If you know nothing about ecology or conservation, this is an excellent introduction into how humans impact their environment.

If like me you have read the original book, but haven’t been able to see the follow up television series, you can catch up on what has happened. There is a summary of each episode on Wikipedia and on the BBC’s Last Chance to See website. The BBC site includes the original radio programmes from 1989, as well as some of the video footage from 2009. Go and take a look!

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Categories: Nature/Environment


I live on the Southern coast of South Africa, and write about the things that interest, amuse or inspire me. You can find me at and (my photoblog)


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2 Comments on “Last Chance to See by Douglas Adams”

  1. October 29, 2010 at 9:36 am #

    That sounds fascinating and funny!

    • October 29, 2010 at 9:52 am #

      And they make you care about a bunch of animals you’ve never heard of!

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