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. TobiasMonk says:

    I’ve been looking forward to this series so much so that after ordering it’s accompanying book I also went ahead and pre-ordered the dvd!

  2. Louise Dunne says:

    Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful..apart from the horrendous injury of course!
    Looking forward to the remaining programmes.
    Congratulations to all concerned in the making of this importantly informative series.
    Wouldn’t it be wonderful if it made a difference?

  3. featcovers says:

    A wonderful show and a new regular Sunday night treat!

  4. Danna says:

    This is very exciting news! I read Last Chance to See a couple of times years ago, and would have read it more had I not lent it to a friend whose dog found the book to be delicious.

    I tried watching the the embedded promo but ran into a nasty message saying that the video is not available in my country due to copyright restrictions, and I sadly assume this is also a sign for the series itself. Is there any idea if or when the series will be available in the US?

  5. Helenjd says:

    Fabulous watching, our 11 year old son was glued to it throughout. What amazing, graceful creatures. We were distressed to see you in so much pain. So looking forward to next weeks instalment.
    Thank you so much.

  6. coco94 says:

    Hi Stephen, loved the 1st episode of ‘Last Chance To See’, the dvd and book will be ordered.
    I’ve just returned from my own year long photographic trip searching for endangered wildlife. My travels through, Spain, Tonga, New Zealand, Australia, India, Borneo, Cambodia, Vietnam and finally Thailand have all been documented with over 200,000 photo and hours of film. I was lucky to encounter many species I’ve only dreamt about since a young boy.
    The Amazon is on my list for next year but first I’m heading back to India to finish writing a book and to pitch some new ideas.
    Please keep up the good work, I’m really looking forward to your New Zealand show, you were very lucky to encounter the Kakapo. Unfortunately this is the one New Zealand species that eluded me but as a consolation I did film the equally endangered Black Stilt, not as charismatic as our dear ground parrot but still stunningly beautiful.
    Regards
    John Hodges

  7. mhowellsmead says:

    A wonderful first episode this evening, which we enjoyed immensely; even if it was painful at times (remembering back to the detail we knew was coming). Moving sections with the manatee, though, and the obvious fun you were having despite the unfamiliar discomfort. We know where we’ll be on Sunday evenings from now on!

  8. SerenWillows says:

    last chance to see was totally amazing!!!….i loved it!, but i felt soooo bad for you with your broken Arm, it looked so painfull, but you held it together well (without swearing!!, if it was me the sky would would have turned purple from all the bad language that would have eminated from my mouth!) but seriously, it was well worth watching!
    thanks Mr. Fry (for making TV intersting).
    :-)

  9. Richard Arblaster says:

    Hi Stephen,

    Watched tonight’s episode with great interest, it was good to see Peachy being semi-released into the wild.

    It must have been a bitter blow when you broke your arm so you were unable to say goodbye.

  10. jimbellofbelmont says:

    I can see that you have comments turned on…. my inquiry is … do you enjoy the feedback from your readers and how do you find the time to get through reading your comments? Are you one of those lucky ones blessed with the ability to actually read quickly? BTW I’m REALLY enjoying “In America” on ABC TV .. one episode to go … love the laid back reflective style. Jim Bell. Australia.

  11. Egao says:

    In my mind, Whales are the greatest creatures of our world. Thank you ver much for creating such programm, hope, somewhen I’ll be able to watch it in Russia.

  12. Stephen Fry says:

    Yes, Jim in Australia. I do enjoy the feedback. I always try and make time to read it, but I can rarely answer it AND keep twittering and blogging AND do the work I have to do, but rest assured I do read and enjoy.

  13. Gaz_Atolla says:

    loved the book Last Chance to See which I’ve read many many times, more times than Hitchhikers, just watched the first episode on BBC iplayer and thought it was fantastic, cannot wait for the next……also thought it was very cool seeing the Boto as the Yangtze River Dolphin that featured in the first last chance to see is now listed as extinct

  14. Laurence_Blackwell says:

    Excellent start to the series I enjoyed it immensely, we are lucky that we live at time where though various means we can get see such wonderful animals as nature intended, by highlighting these animals plights I hope that the programs in some small way helps them back from the brink and lets hope it really isn’t the last chance to see.

  15. goranmagdic says:

    Enjoyed watching last night, and after applying for my first passport (At 25, shocking I know!) hopefully I will be able to visit some of these places. If only my girlfriend could have the same enthusiasm! Being a Christian and denier of evolution seems to have removed the wonder of how marvelous animals are!

  16. nonoyesyes says:

    It must have been incredible to have had this great opportunity to experience nature in it’s natural habitate and to capture on film some of the unique animals in the wild.
    Thank you sharing your experiences with us…. your presenation brings your public an armchair view of what they could not easily see first hand themselves.
    Thank you very much.

  17. Kerry La Porte says:

    While Peachy was unquestionably the cutest non-furry thing I have ever seen, I was wondering – just how does a manitee fart smell? I was also fascinated by the nostrils that suddenly appeared then disappeared from his nose without a trace. Amazing!
    Anyway, I would hate you to think I was here to shamelessly promote anything but, seeing as you’re local-ish and I worship you like a God, (and this is the first musical play I’ve ever written/composed) I thought you may like to attend the premiere of ‘Viaticum’ (music, medieval England, monks, the Black Death) in Newmarket this week. (I would probably fall off my piano stool in shock and have to cancel the show if you did, of course. But the option is there).
    And please – no more breakages – poor Peachy never got to say goodbye!

  18. Aurora says:

    Hy! AraViola here …I tried to find smtg, but there’s not so much on You Tube,and I don’t think the programme will be aired in Italy, so ..what’s the first ep. is about? I’ll shrink the search ;)

  19. John Platt says:

    Any idea when (if?) this series will air in the United States?

  20. Inkey41 says:

    So THIS was what everyone was twittering about yesterday-“Last Chance To See,”your broken arm, and all. Hopefully PBS (in the US) will schedule what sounds like a wonderful series. In the meantime, I will order the book. Tnx for all you do! (Just received an e-mail this a.m. asking for my input for that Rain Forest frog’s name, with you all over it…the e-post, not the frog. LOL)

  21. Soph says:

    Dearest Stephen, It is such a joy to be finally watching Last Chance to See, a journey we’ve almost been on with you, following your tweets,
    twitpics, Afrycam videos here, there and everywhere! And now the pieces of the puzzle are being put together. We’ve been allowed to feel apart of it and we have encounted the same beautiful, unusual, exquisite creatures along the way. Thank you for packing us in with your luggage and for putting up with us. ; ]

    Peachy seems to me such an endearing, irresistable thing, I know she will be safe and treasured always. I took so much delight in seeing how passionate you and Mark are about these animals. It comes across crystal clear. I think you both have done a terrific job in putting the important message across. And we’re only in to the first episode! I am looking forward to five future Sundays!
    Take care,
    Soph.

  22. Elifant71 says:

    I think this is wonderful. I have seen the Blue Whales in Mexico and they are spectacular! Keep up the good works!

  23. Mark69 says:

    Stephen – Love the new series.

    On an entirely materialistic matter… I’m also very drawn to that square-sided orangey/red watch you were wearing in the first episode. Are you able (allowed?) to let us know who makes it?

    Many thanks – hope you stay safe from now on!

    Mark xx

  24. SWPatch says:

    Once again .. simply in awe. I have just returned from working away to find yet another stunning production by our illustrious leader. When will society see sense and make Stephen our leader. After fifty years of wildlife programming by the incredible David Attenborough, one must concede that when the torch needs to be passed onto a successor, it should be SF.

    Sir SF .. please continue with your own form of fantastical ( is that a word ? ) ideals of programming !

  25. arkady says:

    Unfortunately I can’t watch the show since I’m in the US but I loved the book. I wanted to ask if you’d use your clout to have one of Lonesome George’s offspring named for Dr. Herndon G. Dowling who took Geo. from the Galapagos to the Bronx Zoo many years ago & then had him returned. Dr. Dowling now lives in Talladega, AL and, like George, is getting on in years.
    Thanks.

  26. oscilis says:

    Terrific world we are in. Personally I was scared to bits by the monkeys that sound like lions when I was in the Amazon jungle. But, the strangest thing I saw there was a lady in a fluffy, white twinset and pearls who blundered into the hut we were in with…”I’m the one from Brixton that got chosen for the course. Are the cocktails ready?”

  27. timrichardadams says:

    Whilst I am a great admirer of Mr Fry, I’m disappointed in this new series. Some of it is quite wonderful to watch, but I feel that Stephen has so many other fabulous talents, and being out in the wild is not his favourite thing. Would be better to leave that sort of thing to the Attenboroughs of the world who truly adore the wild. I’m a bit of a grouch I guess, and think one person shouldn’t be doing so many things. Let somebody else have a go. Love the books, Printing press doc, blogs, drama’s, QI, but enough already!

  28. salbourne says:

    Sunday nights could not be any more perfect…. Curled up on the sofa with a glass of Chablis and Mr S. Fry encountering Gorillas on the television. The only thing that could possibly imporve this heaven, is Brad Pitt delevering me a Pizza!

  29. vicsticktoria says:

    What a fantastic series this is! I’ve been waiting for this to be aired for some time, and it has certainly been worth the wait!

    I returned to education in the hope of becoming a conservationist in the future. This series is helping me get through my studies.

    Thank you so much to both Stephen and Mark for creating such important television!

  30. salleeb_of_the_dessert says:

    I’ve just watched the 1st episode on bbc iplayer and loved it beyond measure :) I’ve adored manatee’s since I was a little girl but many people just look at me blankly whenever I reply to the inevitable ‘what is your favourite animal?’ And I must say I thought it terribly nice (and may i presume, restrained?) of you not to have pushed the man who knocked your broken arm into the river! I think that you may have overtaken dear David Attenborough in my heart, in regards to sunday televisual delights :) I’m looking forward to sunday night tv for the first time in a long time xxxxxxxx

  31. Akhen1khan2 says:

    Steven, I’m deeply envious of you. I lived in New Zealand for forty two years without once being able to see a Kakapo on Stewart Island. Now I’m back here in England, I look forward to watching your response to one of the most shy creatures on this planet…

  32. finella says:

    my comment on ‘Last chance to see’ was either lost in the void somewhere, when everything went pair-shaped, or has been edited out. If it is the latter why is this? It was not offensive but was mildly, and I think not unfairly, critical. Is that not acceptable on this webpage? It was written around the 13th/14th I think.

  33. SallyTagi says:

    Fantastic programme loving tonights episode with the Lemurs

  34. Akhen1khan2 says:

    Steven you’ve done it again my friend – congratulations on the Aye-aye episode. what a wonderful creature! As for the jungle whale chorus – superb. I hope your New Zealand episode is equally as good. It was my home for forty two years before coming back home.

  35. fidelbistro says:

    Stephen I would be very interested to know your thoughts on The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa and whether you think he is a forgotten genius, as i do. Likewise with the writer Robert Walser. I can only claim to have read both in English translation but even so I sense they are both great talents that deserve more recognition. Another name I would be fascinated to here your views on is the Scottish poet Frank Kuppner. What are you reading now?

    -Fidel Bistro (Twitter : fidelbistro)

  36. Eigernordwand says:

    I love this programme. Reminds me of when I used to idol worship David Attenborough when I was less than 5′
    The Lemurs have been my favourite so far.
    Will there by any diving in later episodes? Red Sea diving would provide you with some fantastic shots as well the Maldives – diving with the rare turtles and not so rare but unbelievable fascinating Manta and Eagle Rays would be life changing. Mr F you would love Eagle Rays!

  37. Eigernordwand says:

    Of course not having seen all this programme I may have already missed the Mantas! Have now pre-ordered the DVD :)

  38. Nardo says:

    I am enjoying the way the issues are presented. We farm through biodynamic methods in Brasil so a lot of these issues are close to our heart were we see lots of deforestation and disappearance of animals in regions. Sadly this is daily life around the world but the issues hardly discussed by the general public so a show like this is fantastic to get a broader audience to at least be aware of the issues. The challenge now is how to turn awareness into actions.

  39. Akhen1khan2 says:

    Venemous Lizards, my god what next! There was a famous case a few years back concerning missing tourists from a cruise-ship that moored adjacent to the beach on Komodo. All that was found were beach towels and flip-flops. It was put down to falling asleep on the beach in ignorance of the native species that roamed there. The poor old Komodo dragons reputation was sealed forever after that…

  40. Bigglestopcat says:

    Stephen: this is a wonderful series but I must CHASTISE you over your pronunciation of the profession to which the lovely Mark Carwardine belongs. And this chastisement is because you are educated and erudite far beyond me and you profess your deep love and detailed knowledge of the English language.

    Mark Carwardine is not, as you pronounce it in the opening titles, a “zoo-ologist”. The word, Stephen, has two “O’s”; he is a “zo-ologist” “zo” as in “toe” “sew” etc. An “…ologist” is someone who makes a scientific study, and in this case it is the science of animal life the “zo” part. My daughter Zoë (note diaeresus) would be most offended if someone called her “Zooë”. If you call Mark a “Zoo” then he becomes a “Zoo-logist” which is nonsense.

    So, let’s fight this awful mispronunciation that pervades this country, after all in French they cleverly visit the “Zoh’oh”, not the Zoo.

  41. Akhen1khan2 says:

    I’ve just witnessed Mark’s close encounter with Sirocco. Poor Sirocco, he had been waiting for a mate to arrive and all he got to shag was Mark :)

  42. OtakuTeri says:

    I’ve been loving the series so far and don’t want it to end. Are there plans to make more? Will Mark and Stephen take it one step further and branch out from the great work Mark and Douglas did?

  43. loopylinda says:

    Fantastic series, loved the Sirocco clip, this programme is all you could ask for and more – love Stephens sense of humour throughout.

  44. lagrangianp says:

    Stephen, LCROSS did a tribute to Douglas Adams on Twitter just before it impacted the Moon. Quote from LCROSS Twitter feed: “And what’s this thing coming toward me very fast? So big and flat and round, it needs a big wide sounding name like Ow, Ownge, Round, Ground! That’s it! Ground! Ha! I wonder if it’ll be friends with me?” :-)

  45. lynne611 says:

    Absolutely the best thing on television this year. You should feel very proud for the way you have highlighted these wonderful, fabulous creatures and the imminent tragedy that faces so many of nature’s species. This series is a magnificent legacy, and I am choked with admiration.

  46. welshrarebit says:

    Stephen – have been thinking you should present more natural living programmes. You bring some very witty asides (some that seem to go completely over Mark’s head he he), with intelligent observations and comments(not like the usual celebrity guff). You and Mark are a good foil for each other.
    So, tips on how to lose 5 stone would be gratefully received as a Blog article….:) Looking good.

    Caroline
    Shropshire

  47. Akhen1khan2 says:

    Boo hiss BBC, boo I say! No Steven tonight, instead Snooker!!!! The damned neanderthals get their prog while we loose out yet again :(

  48. Tony Squire says:

    Hi Mr Fry
    I was so moved by your programme that I have written a poem,
    Oh Kakapo

    Oh kakapo oh kakapo
    If it’s all the same to you
    Antipodean flightless bird
    Your self defence is quite absurd
    Pretending you’re a moldy turd
    Oh Kakapo

    Oh Kakapo oh kakapo
    If it’s all the same to you
    Just build your nest inside a tree
    Or hide somewhere we just can’t see
    Don’t stroll around so uselessly
    Oh Kakapo

    Oh kakapo oh kakapo
    If it’s all the same to you
    When wild life “docies” come your way
    They’re not your mates, they will not stay
    Just find another Kakapo to lay
    Oh Kakapo

    Oh kakapo oh kakapo
    If it’s all the same to you
    Don’t make your nest upon my head
    And turn my hair into your bed
    Go hump David Attenborough instead
    Oh kakapo

    Oh kakapo oh kakapo
    If it’s all the same to you
    Hilarious though, you silly things
    You cannot fly, you grunt not sing,
    Though you have none, you clap your wings
    Oh Kakapo

    Oh kakapo oh kakapo
    If it’s all the same to you
    Upon your island in the Sea
    You seem so destined not to be
    Part of the twenty first century
    Oh Kakapo

    So kakapo oh kakapo
    If it’s all the same to you
    Before you go, just one request
    Just stay a while, don’t fail the test
    We love you Mate, you are the best
    Oh Kakapo By Anon aged 8 and ¾.

  49. Bill Liao says:

    A very moving series totally brilliant and inspiring.

    The theme of humanity having impact both for and against the amazing creatures featured had me oscillating between joy and despair nearly as much as Stephen appeared to oscillate between wonder and exhaustion.

    In the end though I suspect many preservation efforts will be futile if we do not do a lot more to reinvest in the Earth as a whole specifically in the area of reforestation.

  50. Akhen1khan2 says:

    I really enjoyed last nights final episode with the Blue Whales. I’m sad that the series is over. Here’s hoping that Stephen and Mark do another :)

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