Book Recommendation: Last Chance to See

It (it being the book I’m reviewing) began as a search for a lemur called the Aye-aye, which was in all probability, already extinct. Douglas Adams, the writer, and Mark Carwardine, the zoologist, witnessed the primate in the wild, took its picture, wrote an article, and liked the whole ordeal so much that subsequent travels were planned. Those additional accounts were published in 1990 as an accompanying book to a BBC Radio series, Last Chance To See.

1990, that’s almost 30 years ago, ⅓ of a Kakapo’s lifespan. The Kakapo, featured in the chapter “Heartbeats in the Night” is a critically endangered flightless parrot that can only mate when certain fruits are in plenty and if they can find each other in the dark. As Adams explains, “it pursues its own eccentricities rather industriously and modestly. If you ask anybody who has worked with Kakapo to describe them, they tend to use words like innocent and solemn, even when it’s leaping helplessly out of a tree. This I find immensely appealing.” Quite. You will therefore be pleased to know that the species still survives on three predator-free islands off of New Zealand and in 2016 had a rather successful breeding season. Unlike the northern white rhinoceros, down to just three individuals, protected round-the-clock by armed guards. They are unable to reproduce, but their DNA is preserved in genetic banks if people figure that out later.

Throughout the book, Adams and Cawardine share their encounters with some of the rarest species on Earth. The narrative, with its sharp, English wit and facts that seem too odd to be real, is a lovely way to learn some natural history. And marvel at human nature, in all its absurdity*.

Favorite moment: Meeting Richard Lewis on the island country of Mauritius where the world’s rarest fruit bats reside. Richard Lewis is an ornithologist.

Favorite quote: “Not only was the forest thick, it was also cold, wet, and full of large black ants that bit all of us except for Helmut and Kurt, who were wearing special antproof socks which they had brought with them from Latvia. We complimented them on their foresight and they shrugged and said it was nothing. Latvians were always well prepared.”

* absurd: bizarre, farcical, illogical, incongruous, irrational, laughable

 

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