Monday, 13 February 2012

Douglas Adams with Mark Carwardine- Last Chance To See

Last Chance To See
Pan Books

Douglas Adams with Mark Carwardine
1990

  
'For all my rational Western intellect and education, I was for the moment overwhelmed by a primitive sense of living in a world ordered by a malign and perverted god, and it coloured my view of everything that afternoon—even the coconuts. The villagers sold us some and split them open for us. They are almost perfectly designed. You first make a hole and drink the milk, and then you split open the nut with a machete and slice off a segment of the shell, which forms a perfect implement for scooping out the coconut flesh inside. What makes you wonder about the nature of this god character is that he creates something that is so perfectly designed to be of benefit to human beings and then hangs it twenty feet above their heads on a tree with no branches.'

Douglas Adams is most commonly known as the comedic genius behind the beloved Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy series (and the less-beloved Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency series) who sadly passed away prematurely all the way back in 2001. This book is one of his lesser-known ventures, but it's certainly the most serious of all his written work and, to me, the most poignant as well. In Last Chance To See (which accompanied a BBC radio series of the same name) Adams and zoologist Mark Carwardine travel the globe in a quest to find and observe several of the planet's most endangered species, as well as the efforts of those trying to prevent their complete annihilation. The pair travel from Indonesia to Brazil to look for the Aye-Aye, the Komodo Dragon and the Northern White Rhinoceros amongst others, as Adams puts to paper these experiences with his typical mix of dry humour and fantastic depictions of the odd range of people and creatures they meet on the way.

Often funny, sometimes sad, this book is certainly a triumph in presenting an uncensored look at some depressing statistics and circumstances regarding the vast rate of wildlife extinction occurring on this planet due to direct human influence. It's partly a travel book too, with Adams offering some of the funniest passages when describing his experiences with the people he encountered around the globe, as well as some more serious musings on the state of the former state of Zaire- now the Democratic Republic of Congo- a place I am determined never to visit under any circumstances.

While this book is too short and reliant on humour to be considered as any kind of zoologist textbook on the subject of animal extinction, Adams' talent as a writer ensures that it should stick in the mind of casual readers of the subject (like myself) and transfer a few facts along with a meaningful tone, hopefully raising some awareness- though for two of the species explored in this book (the Northern White Rhino and Yangtze River Dolphin) it's too late for that.