Last Chance to See

See our Last Chance to See features page for more on Stephen’s adventures.

Twenty years ago, writer Douglas Adams and the zoologist Mark Carwardine set off in search of some of the most endangered species on the planet to produce the timeless classic book Last Chance to See.

Now Stephen Fry – who by chance house-sat for Douglas while he was on his epic adventure – is realising the dream himself, as he joins Mark in what could be the final outing to capture some of these species on camera in the TV version of Last Chance to See.

Across six special weeks, Stephen will be engaging in what he calls an “exhausting, exhilarating and exasperating” journey, but one that he wouldn’t have missed for the world, as he tracks the progress of the Aye-Aye in Madagascar, the Blue Whale off the coast of Mexico, the Kakapo in New Zealand, the Northern White Rhino in Uganda, the Komodo Dragon in Indonesia and the Amazonian Manatee in Brazil.

Stephen admits that while he does love animals, he’s not so keen on the fact that to see them in the wild, one needs to spend so much of the time trekking and camping to where they are. But it’s a sacrifice he’s prepared to make to share some incredible moments – his first sight of a blue whale fluking (raising its tail vertically in the air) stirring “almost unbearable” excitement; meeting the world’s smallest primate, Madame Berthe’s Pygmy Mouse Lemur – “sheer, unadulterated cute” –  and watching tiny turtle hatchlings rushing across the sand to reach the sea – “one of the great evenings of my life”.

Although Last Chance to See introduces some rare and wonderful specimens, as with the original book and radio series, there is a serious message. Currently almost 8,500 species are officially recognised as endangered by extinction, and it’s not getting any easier as habitats continue to be destroyed, sometimes, ironically, so that we in the West can claim we’re going green.

Rainforest is being cleared to create palm plantations for bio-fuel, for example, leaving whole species without a home, and releasing huge amounts of carbon dioxide in the process. Mark says he found this particularly noticeable in Madagascar, where first time round, along Baobab Alley, the whole area was jungle – now one small strip is all that remains.

One species the pair couldn’t revisit was the Yangtse River Dolphin, now officially extinct, though Mark still has photographs from his previous encounter. And Stephen finds that sometimes it is just a few people standing between the survival of a whole species and its complete demise. Mark was cheered that in every case, people he and Douglas met 20 years ago are still there, still passionate about their cause.

In New Zealand they met up with Don Merton, who has dedicated his life to helping the Kakapo, a large flightless parrot almost wiped out when settlers introduced predators such as rats and stoats, since its primary defence, says Mark, is “to sit and wait and see what happened”. Mostly what happened was they were eaten. Just 40 remained when Mark met Don last, but with astonishing dedication and care, 90 now exist. It’s a long, slow crawl back from the brink of disaster.

Mark is delighted to find that the book is still stirring people to action. Even now, Don says, he receives notes from people saying they have just read Last Chance to See and enclose money to help save the Kakapo.

Stephen acknowledges that he is more aware than ever that a price has been paid by some animal, somewhere, that allows him to be a “creature of the modern world” and all that goes with it.

And he and Mark hope the programme will go a little way to educating people in realising what they have to lose – a big task however when it comes to species such as sharks or seahorses, which south east Asian cultures believe have health-giving properties. The pair browse a market in Borneo, where thousands of tiny seahorses are packaged up to be used in a supposedly potent broth, while Mark notes that the sharks, stripped of their fins to make soup, are rather small – indicating that all the larger ones have already been fished out. He admits it’s an uphill struggle with “one-and-a-half-billion people believing in these products”.

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66 comments on “Last Chance to See”

  1. smudger says:

    A fabulous final episode.I have always been overawed by the Blue Whale model in the National History Museum therefore I can only imagine the experience of actually seeing this wonderful Mammal in its natural habitat.

  2. Kayos says:

    I would like to say THANK YOU. Thank you for a great series. I loved it and I thought you really expressed the joy of seeing these animals in the wild, by simply being yourself. I have just started university (as a mature student)to study ecology and conservation and I feel that it is TV shows like yours that will truly help to save these animals for the future. Don’t change, you fabulous as you are. Thank you.

  3. village_cricket says:

    Just wanted to say a big thank you to Stephen and Mark for a fantastic series compelling viewing. I have ordered the orignal Book by Douglas Adams and i look forward to reading it. Lets hope in 20 years time all the animals featured are still gracing this wonderful planet (my son who is due to be born in 10 days time will be delighted if they are) Thanks again Stephen and all those involved.

  4. silvibub says:

    This was a fantastic series and thanks to Stephen it felt as if i was actully there with him watching these wonderful animals in there natural surroundings and was as excited as Stephen at finding them.
    Stephen seems to have the ability to make you feel like he is your friend and you are on this journey with him i cant praise him enough he is a true icon , I dont know what i am going to do now this has ended .

  5. jdsessions says:

    Caught the whale episode late one evening (early one morning?) and went out out the next day to buy the dvd & book ~ an excellent series, entertaining and educational at the same time.

    Thanks Stephen, Mark & the crew.

  6. Mozy says:

    I’d like to know if you ‘enjoyed’ the same squalid conditions on Turtle Island as we did. The cockroaches that scuttled around our feet at dinner were nothing compared to the 18-inch centiped that dropped out of the air conditioning. But our experience of watching a female turtle laying her eggs and then releasing baby turtles into the sea were as joyous as they seemed to be for you and Mark.

  7. milanoos223 says:

    Yes, animals are all other friends, we should get along with them. If they disapper, soon will be us.think about it. By the way, I am from milanoo.

  8. kellyjago says:

    I fell in love with the ‘Aye Aye’ after I was engrossed in the last chance to see series. I decided to watch an episode on iplayer as i went to sleep. I ended up staying up all night watching 3 episodes back to back! I was so inspired particularly by the Aye aye that I decided to tell the story and create a character..

    ‘Alfie the Aye aye’

    I have drawn a few initial illustrations and hope to write a story about to go with them.

    I eventually hope to try and publish a childrens book, intended to educate children and parents on the worlds incredible endangered species. Maybe it could make a difference!?

    I would love it if you have the time to view my website and take a look at the first stages of ‘Alfie the Aye aye’

    http://www.kellyjago.com/

    best wishes,

    kelly

  9. cjeyre says:

    Does anyone know what the camera is that Stephen keeps using, it looks like a mini HD video camera, but I’m unsure of the make or the model, and it’s becoming quite annoying…

    Thanks in advance, for any responses
    Chris

  10. LadyGirlPerson says:

    I might live in the Adirondacks, but I am honestly not the outdoor type. I appreciate nature through “nature shows” and “books” and through my very own window.

    I don’t know how anyone can go out into the crevices of nature and witness all of this wonder and not have their brain implode. I get overwhelmed by watching from a safe – comfortable distance.

    Bravo Stephen and Thank you for this. I hope you did not mold, dehydrate, or break any more bones. As Always, you are the example.

    Goodnight, time for a book and for bed.

  11. sarahhayman says:

    This has been one of my very favourite books – I recommend it to all my friends and wish we could see the series here in Australia

  12. HouseMD_Louise says:

    well, just wanted to thank you for giving me the opportunity to see in my life these beautiful animals.!!

    Regards from Oxford and amazing page brother!!

  13. oolongschnapps says:

    thanx for helpin me get thru xmas etc. with your absorbing ‘last chance to see’ book that santa saw fit to bestow upon my unworthy soul…it has been a truly remarkable read so far and i am looking forward to the dvd for my birthday – present buying is so much easier these days thanks to you !!

    i had no idea you came so close to shuffling off this mortal coil/hopping the twig/snuffing it etc. until i read the chapter about your unfortunate slip in the dark – my, that must have been scary!! Not to mention all those terrifying car journeys and death defying plane trips…you have my utmost respect sir – and all that without the aid of a safety ‘net’ (or reliable broadband connection for that matter)!

  14. oolongschnapps says:

    When I say your book, obviously I mean Mark’s (and your) book as he was the main author…. interesting to note that his writing style bears not just a passing resemblance to your own. Who influenced who I wonder, or is it merely a coincidence? Either way, the project was a great collaboration in my humble opinion – hope there are more to come? Only after your latest ‘outpouring’ of course. By the way, have you started yet? You know what they say – there’s no time like the present for postponing what you don’t want to do…

  15. Maryannec says:

    It’s finally on here in New Zealand which seems a bit wrong to me as we are in it (all five of us! (NZers that is)) and we didn’t get to see it first! But it is worth the wait. Heaven is a Sunday night of watching the wonderful Mr Fry trek intrepidly through nature at its most exterior, followed by QI. Such versatility!

  16. hazeljay says:

    where the hell did twenty years and a dolphin go? I’ m not sure i’m that old or that the planet spins so fast….

    It is so scary to see how my kids react to one of my ephanies…..

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