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Last Chance to See

Last Chance to See is a book by Douglas Adams

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I've Seen - But I Will Not Conquer, Because it has Already Been Done

  • Jun 7, 2005
Pros: Superb, amusing, moving narrative

Cons: Not enough information about dolphins

The Bottom Line: If you're conservative and you read this and your opinion on the ecosystem isn't changed, YOU should be hunted.

Dear Douglas Adams,

Let me tell you about the time I was almost pounced on by a siberian tiger. It occured when I was probably not more than 11 years old. But appropriately enough, it was tigers that I was looking for when it happened. While I had expected to find this particular type of rare man-eater, my encounter was unexpected because I was looking off in one particular direction and the tiger approached from the other. I barely had time to register that a tiger was crossing right in front of me when it looked in my direction and stood up, on its hind legs, to get a better idea of what it was looking at. I’ll never forget the look in the giant cat’s eyes - not because its gaze was hungry and murderous, thinking I would make a fine meal, but because it was one of curiosity. It didn’t know that, had it not been for the two-inch-thick glass so kindly and freely provided by the Buffalo Zoo, it could have crushed me!

I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of jealousy, however, as I read your outstanding book about nature, Last Chance to See. While I relish my memory of my potential tiger attack, you got to visit lemurs, komodo dragons, gorillas, rare birds, and dolphins in their natural habitats. I have a whole new respect for you after reading this book, not only for your talent, but for your concern about conservation.

In Last Chance to See, you show that you have a true narrative gift, for those who may have doubted it after reading your famous five-book trilogy, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Not only are your descriptions detailed, photographic, and amazing, but throughout the book, I love the way you are able to empathize with the animals you’re looking for. Like your empathy for the baiji dolphin, and the way you think of yourself in the Yangtze river for example: As I watched the wind ruffling over the bilious surface of the Yangtze, I realised with the vividness of shock that somewhere beneath or around me there were intelligent animals whose perceptive universe we could scarecly begin to imagine, living in a seething, poisoned, deafening world, and that their lives were probably passed in continual bewilderment, hunger, pain, and fear. There was a time when I wanted to become a conservationist, so I’ve read many books about wildlife, and I was well aware of the situation long before I ever read Last Chance to See. However, there was always a part of me which took the world and the ecosystem for granted, and I never quite appreciated (for lack of a better word) the situation at hand until reading this book.

I’m fairly certain you’ve probably become sick of people telling you when they read one of your non-Hitchhiker’s books, thinking it would be Hitchhiker’s in a different setting, and how wrong they were when they read otherwise. Therefore I will tell you that I didn’t begin reading Last Chance to See expecting The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Earth Wildlife. I don’t know whether or not you will believe that, as many of your other fans have been led to your other books through their aquaintance with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but this was not my expectation at all. My interest was purely so I could read your thoughts and observations about endangered wildlife, and I was not let down at all. I know you supposedly co-authored this book with a wildlife expert named Mark Carwardine. I couldn’t help but think this made Last Chance to See’s point of view a little misleading, because Mark only gets an epilogue near the end - I know this because the whole rest of the book in written in a first-person format, and that person happens to be you. I appreciate the efforts of the both of you, however this letter is addressed solely to you since most of the book is written by you, and in your typical manic language style. And I’m going to give you the highest compliment I can think of: I learned more about the ecosystem and the realities facing it from Last Chance to See then I did from any other nature book I’ve ever read - and I’ve read many.

Mr. Adams, you admit in one chapter that you’re not excited about birds, and you don’t really get, other than for typical conservationist reasons, why anyone would want to sit around watching them. I, on the other hand, am a major bird person. I love birds. Therefore, I hope you get a feeling of satisfaction knowing that myself and probably many other bird lovers truly appreciated the bird watching you did in the chapters named “Heartbeats in the Night” and “Rare, or Medium Rare?” Before reading “Heartbeats in the Night,” I had never even known there was a bird called the kakapo. However, thanks to you, I now know that the kakapo is a small flightless bird, nocturnal, a native of New Zealand, and that there are only aaround 40 left in the world - not really the work of poachers, but more the advancement of science and society. I also took a liking to the bird named Pink, the Mauritius kestrel who is convinced he’s a human because your guide on Mauritius, Carl, managed to confuse him. The bird thinking the first thing it sees is its mother is not uncommon, did you know that? It’s rather common among farm animals. By the way, I cringed at some of the numbers you recorded - like 15, which is the number of echo parakeets in the wild.

After reading about your successful encounter with the aye-aye lemur in the first chapter, I couldn’t help but temporarily think Last Chance to See would be staged. Then came the chapter about the dolphins - another personal favorite non-human creature of mine - in the chapter titled “Blind Panic.” It seems that you had a lot of luck and enough fame to be provided with the best guides. Anyway, while I’m on the subject of “Blind Panic,” I should mention that it’s the most amusing chapter in the book. I wish you had included more information on the dolphins. But I enjoyed learning about the culttural differences in China, as I am, like you, of a western mindset and education. Your anecdotes about the aftershave were among the funniest bits you’ve ever written, and I laughhed my head off at you and Mark’s search for a condom to cover your microphone with. I thought your observations of Chinese culture defined exactly what you said your role on this trip was on the first page of the first chapter: 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. Your flight on the plane with all the missionaries, a type of person whom neither you or Mark seem particularly keen on - was uproarious as well.

I was more moved than I was tickled by Last Chance to See, so I hope that, after reading this letter, you don’t think you didn't hammer the point home. In the chapter titled “Here be Chickens,” you talk about your disdain for how tourism at exotic locations such as Komodo are being used as tourist traps. It shocked me because it was a point of view that I had never even considered, and it’s tough to argue with the ideas you present. The two scenes that moved me the most, however, are the one in the second chapter where you get up close to the gorilla leader and start jotting down notes. Reading this section, It finally dawned on me just how close humans and monkeys are. I’m not an atheist - at least not yet, but I’m sliding in that direction - but the behavior of the gorilla, his watching you write, knowing that the stick you were spinning and making little squiggles with, made me more of a believer in evolution than ever. And I would have killed - okay, I wouldn’t have, not after reading this book, but you get the idea anyway - to experience the part where the gorilla reached out and touched your pen because it was curious. It was learning. And your anecdote about the dodo near the end of the book was very heart-wrenching for me. I was disgusted to learn that people clubbed them to death - they didn’t even give the gentle birds humane deaths. Clubs! This is why there are people who don’t believe in evolution, and a reason that I have never, nor will ever consider hunting a sport. I felt very bad at the way you ended the dodo scenario: Up until that point it hadn’t really clicked with man that an animal could just cease to exist. It was as if we hadn’t realised that if we kill something, it simply won’t be there anymore. Ever. As a result of the extiction of the dodo, we are sadder and wiser.

Mr. Adams, I’m very sorry that I never got around to reading any of your books while you were still alive. You were certainly an extraordinary person and thinker, and while I don’t believe in the ideas of heaven and hell, I hope there’s some sort of afterlife, because I would like to believe that I will someday have the opportunity to walk up to you, shake your hand, and tell you what an amazing and important book Last Chance to See is. I seem to remember reading somewhere that it was your personal favorite of all the books you’ve written. It’s a real crime that it’s so difficult to find nowadays. But nevertheless, it is one book which you should be very proud of writing.


Dear Mark Carwardine,

I’m not familiar with your work, so this letter to you will be short, little more than an acknowledgment. But I was happy to read the good news about the rising populations you wrote in your epilogue for Last Chance to See, even though this book is over 15 years old. It’s not like you needed a big space to make your point, though. I know you’re right when you write at the end There is one last reason for caring, and I believe that no other is necessary. It is certainly the reason why so many people have devoted their lives to protecting the likes of rhinos, parakeets, kakapos, and dolphins. And it is simply this: The world wwould be a poorer, darker, lonelier place without them. My younger sister shares this sentiment, and it’s partially for that reason she’s studying zoology. Your contributions to Last Chance to See are greatly appreciated, and as I can see you were once a Conservation Officer with the World Wildlife Fund, all I have to say is, great job. I hope the World Wildlife Fund keeps it up. On behalf of all the animal nuts of the world, thank you.



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review by . September 24, 2010
I read this back in 1994 during a period where my wife and I would each read a book out of the other's library. It's basically a travel book written by that master of modern British understatement, Mr. "Have-PowerBook-Will-Travel" Douglas Adams. I, along with a large number of people, idolize Adams' sendup of everything science-fictional in the Hitchhiker's Guide books, but was disappointed by the gradual falling off of quality in that series as successive books …
Quick Tip by . August 13, 2010
A hilarious and touching exploration in search of critically endangered species. Accessible and accurate explanations of ecological concepts, including why humans should put so much effort into protecting species and their ecosystems. A must read!
review by . October 09, 2002
A travel book written by that master of modern British understatement, Mr. Have-PowerBook-Will-Travel Douglas Adams. I, along with a large number of people, idolize Adams' sendup of everything science-fictional in the Hitchhiker's Guide books, but have been disappointed by the gradual falling off of quality in those books as well as the poor showing of the Dirk Gently novels. Have no fear when you approach this book, though, because Adams is in his best form here. If anything, this book is much …
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About this book


 Last Chance to See is a book written by Douglas Adams and Mark Carwardine first published in 1990, as a companion to the BBCradio series of the same name. The theme of documentary was to feature animal species which were endangered or threatened with extinction. A BBC television remake of the series, with Stephen Fry replacing the late Adams is airing in 2009. (source wiki)

YA-- The BBC asked this team to film some of the most endangered animal species throughout the world. Adams has recorded their adventures seeking the komodo dragon, northern white rhinoceros, mountain gorilla, kakapo, baiji dolphin, and the rodrigues fruit bat. There is biological information here, but it is inaccessible for report writers due to the lack of an index and the wordy descriptions. However, these same accurate portrayals and Adams's entertaining style will expose students to the worlds of these animals. He moves rapidly from informal, laugh-out-loud descriptions of his travels to serious pleas for awareness and conservation of all animals. The full-color photographs are in two separate sections and help readers to visualize the unusual animals (including the authors).

- Claudia Moore, W. T. Woodson High School, Fairfax, VA

Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this
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ISBN-10: 0345371984
ISBN-13: 978-0345371980
Author: Douglas Adams
Genre: Outdoors & Nature
Publisher: Ballantine Books
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