As a longtime devotee of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy I would’ve picked up Douglas Adams and Mark Carwardine’s ‘Last Chance to See’ regardless of the subject matter. The fact that the book details their attempts to see some of the most endangered species of the 1980s just meant that I gained an extra level of enjoyment, beyond their hilarious retelling of jetlag, excessive aftershave purchases and empathy with chickens (I’m not sure fellow passengers on public transport were as blessed by my stifled laughter and shaking shoulders).
Whilst the book was a great read, it was also sobering. The authors’ goal was to see these species – komodo dragons, New Zealand kakapos, Northern white rhinos, Yangtze river dolphins, Madagascan aye-aye, Mountain gorillas, Rodrigues fruit bat – before they disappear forever. Reading it 25 years later, it would be lovely to think that we’d got the message that things need to change. Sadly it is not so.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) ranks the current conservation status of species through their Red List of Threatened Species. A quick look at this shows things have not greatly improved for our last chance species. The aye-aye and Mountain gorillas remain endangered, whilst the Rodrigues fruit bat and the kakapo are critically endangered i.e. at extremely high risk of extinction in the wild. The Komodo dragon is only vulnerable though – a reason to be cheerful?!
Things are even worse for the Northern White Rhino. When Adams and Carwardine visited them, the good news story was that the population of these rhinos in the national park had grown from a low of 13 to 22. 25 years later, they are thought to be extinct in the wild, and in October 2014 one of the six rhinos in captivity died. Perhaps the most poignant change of all though is highlighted by the fact that the 2009 television follow up to ‘Last Chance to See’ did not even visit the Yangtze River Dolphin in China – it is now presumed extinct.
So how do we respond to the issues discussed by Adams and Carwardine, and the lack of positive news 25 years later? The authors address this themselves.It captures well the need to think of future generations (though I wonder if we need to look more than one ahead to ensure long-term change), whilst also recognising that we can only do what’s in our power. For the people Adams and Carwardine met, it was the plight of their local wildlife. At the moment for me, it’s education – recognising that the impact of thousands of engaged, passionate and skilled graduates will be far greater than my own. What’s it for you?