Last Chance to See is the sequel to the book by the same name written by Douglas Adams and Mark Carwardine twenty years ago. In the book, Douglas and Mark talk about their experiences visiting a handful of the most endangered animals on Earth. They planned to do a followup book ten years later, but the day after their phone conversation planning the trip, Douglas died of a heart attack. Ten years after that, Stephen Fry (who had been house-sitting for Douglas during his trip) stepped in to take Douglas’ place in the sequel, but instead of a book, they did a 6-episode TV series. Stephen Fry and Mark Carwardine travel the world to re-visit all the of the super-endangered animals twenty years later to see how they’ve been getting on. It’s available on DVD, both region 1 and region 2. There’s also a Kindle book version.
There are 8,471 endangered species on the planet. Last Chance to See deals with a dozen or less as a sampling. Some of the animals they check up on twenty years later are doing better in population. Others have become extinct. Last Chance to See is as much a quirky adventure story as it is a plea to help save the ecosystem.
It is interesting to find home-body Stephen Fry in this role, trekking through jungles and oceans alongside naturalist and photographer Mark Carwardine, because, as he admits in episode one, he’s more a man of creature comforts than of creatures. Watching the show is a bit like watching City Slickers. It’s actually pretty funny to watch Mark and Stephen genuinely get on each other’s nerves. The first episode sees Stephen dismayed that he can’t charge his cell phone, but as the series goes on, he realizes that its humans’ technological advancements that are largely responsible for altering the world ecosystem and killing off many species of animals. You do come out of the experience feeling a little bit guilty.
Stephen Fry is an actor, writer, and cultural icon. He has authored about 10 books. He is known for his work with Hugh Laurie, such as Jeeves & Wooster, as well as presenting the panel show QI for 12 years. He recently quit Twitter.
Stephen and Mark team up with scientists and wildlife rescuers to get headcounts of endangered animals (coloring wild lemurs), measure them (swimming alongside a shark with a ruler), and rehabilitate injured ones (They set Peachy the baby manatee back into the wild!). The original book started because Douglas had been hired to write about the aye-aye for the Observer. The aye-aye is an endangered nocturnal lemur in Madagascar that is killed because of the myth that if it points at you, you’ll die. Stephen and Mark are thrilled to find these strange little creatures still in existence. Another star of the book is the Komodo dragon, which, on screen, is much more terrifying than I ever imagined. There is a crew of people who work in raised offices above the dragons, but sometimes they get attacked, and we meet someone who was bitten. The damage is extremely poisonous and often lethal. The man, who was very lucky, had his injury swell up like you’ve never seen. That said, they are very cool. The final star of the book is the mighty kakapos, flightless nocturnal parrots who make a thunderous mating call. Peter Jackson has actually been a big supporter of helping this species. Sir Rocco, a domestic kakapo, has a Facebook page, and the oddest thing in the series is to watch this almost sexless bird mate with Mark’s head.
Douglas Adams (1952-2001) was a humorous satire and science fiction writer, best known for writing The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. He does not appear in Last Chance to See, but he did co-author the book.
The danger toward animals comes from different places. Sometimes the local predator population is over abundant, yes, but much of the time it is poachers. In fact, there are stories of poachers killing people in their sleep in the woods, so our hosts decide to stay away. But that doesn’t mean they’re not put in other kinds of danger throughout the season. Stephen doesn’t get through episode one without breaking his arm, and at one point, they nearly have to abandon Mark on a rock with a bunch of hostile California sealions.
Dolphins are Mark’s favorite animal. He claims he needs to see a dolphin every few days to survive, so it’s especially tragic to learn that the final episode does not end in China to check up on the Yangtze River Dolphin, as it was declared extinct years ago. It’s the first porpoise that’s gone extinct in modern times. But after warning Stephen not to pee in the water to avoid little fish swimming up his peeline, they get to hang out with manatees, whales, whale sharks, and other kinds of dolphins. The final episode instead takes place in Mexico to go blue whale spotting, and they learn that the over population of the Humboldt Squid is signs of an upset ecosystem. We get to hear the humpback whales sing, what Mark considers one of the most beautiful sounds in the animal kingdom, and certainly the most complex.
The other tragedy is the Northern White Rhino. Douglas Adams was a huge rhino fan, so much in fact that he climbed Mount Kilimanjaro dressed in a rhino suit for Save the Rhino. So it is especially tragic that while Mark and Stephen are out visiting the camp where they are trying to protect what few Northern White Rhinos there are left from poachers, the species is declared extinct. What ironic timing for them to show up on the day that the camp must be shut down! But, the show always introduces us to similar animals to the ones that are extinct or too endangered to locate, so we get to watch them tranquilize a black rhino in order to relocate it to a safer environment. Wow!