Friday, September 18, 2009

Mouse Lemur: 'one of the most beautiful animals I have ever seen'

Check out this video clip of Stephen Fry encountering the "darling" Mouse Lemur, which he describes as 'one of the most beautiful animals he has ever seen'.

Last Chance To See the Aye-Aye?

Mark Carwardine has an article on the BBC Earth News site about the upcoming episode of the TV series about the Aye-Aye Lemur.
One of the many repercussions of Madagascar's coup, which took place in March 2009, has been a dramatic rise in criminal networks plundering the country's protected areas for precious hardwoods and wildlife.
[...]
the recent breakdown in law and order, and the unwise withdrawal of foreign aid agencies, has wiped the smile from many faces.

From a wildlife point of view, in particular, it has resulted in huge numbers of lemurs, including several endangered species, being captured for the pet trade or butchered for sale to restaurants.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Stephen Fry on "Steve Wright in the Afternoon" (with Graham Norton)

Thanks to Dave Haddock again. He has pointed out that Stephen Fry appeared on the "Steve Wright in the Afternoon" show on BBC Radio 2 last Friday, talking to substitute DJ Graham Norton. At the time of writing there's still 3 days left to listen to the show. Stephen is on between 1hr 30m 50s - until 1hr 46m.

Sirocco the Kakapo Visits Auckland Zoo until September 23rd

Scoop has news that Sirocco the Kakapo is appearing at Auckland Zoo until September 23rd.
His visit is our way of celebrating the thousands of hours that volunteers, rangers, vets, scientists and sponsors have put into maximising the survival chances of kakapo over the last 30 years,” says DOC spokesperson Nic Vallance.

Sirocco, who has charmed the likes of famous English actor Stephen Fry with his gregarious personality, recently moved back home to Whenua Hou or Codfish Island after spending the summer on Pearl Island, south east of Stewart Island.
Tickets are very limited and pre-purchasing is essential.
Tickets (allocated for specific tour times) are $20 for adults, $10 for children (aged 4 – 15 years) or $50 for a family (2 adults, 2 children). To pre-purchase tickets phone the Auckland Zoo Information Centre (09) 360 3805. For further details about Sirocco and his visit, www.aucklandzoo.co.nz; www.doc.govt.nz, www.kakaporecovery.org.nz and www.conservationweek.org.nz

Titus "The Gorilla King" has Died

BBC News has reported that Rwanda is mourning its most famous mountain gorilla. The silverback Titus, known as 'The Gorilla King', has died at the age of 35.
He was the subject of a BBC documentary last year, and was studied by naturalists throughout his life - including US expert Dian Fossey."
[...]
"He was born on 24 August 1974 and has been observed closely by researchers throughout his entire life," a statement from the Rwandan national parks office said.

"Tragically, he succumbed to old age on September 14."

The life expectancy of a healthy gorilla is about 40.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Q & A with Mark Carwardine

The Ecologist is running an excellent interview with Mark Carwardine on his thoughts about the Last Chance To See TV series.
What do you hope the series will achieve?
I hope it will make a lot of people who wouldn't normally watch a wildlife series, let alone a conservation series take notice.

I think that by having Stephen on board who has such a big following, and making it a light hearted travelogue with a serious theme - I hope it will get a wide audience.

Twitter Feed now available

If Twitter is your preferred method of receiving new content, I'm happy to say that Another Chance To See is now on Twitter, and the posts are automatically getting published there.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Audio: Excess Baggage with Stephen Fry

Tune in to BBC Radio 4's "Excess Baggage" (available worldwide online), on Saturday September 12th at 10a.m. to hear Stephen Fry discussing the making of the Last Chance To See TV series. The show will also be available to listen again after broadcast. It is also available as a free Podcast through RSS, iTunes and other services. This week's show also includes an interview with the legendary travel broadcaster Alan Whicker.
Stephen Fry is not a man who likes to rough it, but he is forced to do just that in visiting the remoter parts of the world to see some of the most endangered species. Sandi asks him whether seeing the aye-aye, the blue whale and the komodo dragon was really worthwhile - especially as it involved not just discomfort but seriously fracturing his arm.
And if you're quick, David Attenborough's "A Point of View" last week featured the story of the Dodo and other flightless birds.

Video: Stephen Fry 'face to face' with gorillas

The BBC News site has a short article on this week's episode 2 of the TV series. "Last Chance to See - Northern White Rhino" is broadcast on BBC Two at 8p.m., on 13 September 2009. The page also features a video of Stephen's trek up to see the Mountain Gorillas, which he describes as "worth every sobbing, gasping, aching step". For right now, the video is not geographically restricted and available worldwide. Enjoy.

Friday, September 04, 2009

The Story of Last Chance To See (by David Haddock)

The story of Last Chance to See begins with Douglas Adams being telephoned by the World Wildlife Fund and asked to go to Madagascar and look for the rarest form of lemur then known - the Aye-Aye. He was to do this in the company of zoologist Mark Carwardine who would act as the expert foil to Douglas who would be writing about the trip. The trip took place in the Spring of 1985, and the photographer Alain le Garsmeur went along to provide the pictures, and Jane Belson who was later to be Douglas’s wife also joined the group.

The article duly appeared in the Observer Sunday Magazine (9th June 1985) with plenty of pictures of other lemurs, nice photogenic ones that were active during the day, like the Ring-tailed lemur shown on the cover, and the Sifaka lemur in the body of the article. However, much to everyone's surprise they did manage to capture the nocturnal Aye-Aye on film as well, and so a grainy picture of it was also published in the article. The aim of the project was to promote conservation in Madagascar, and to that end it was sponsored by Fiat, which donated a pound to the WWF for every person that called an advertised phone number.



Incidentally, Douglas used the expedition as the basis of a chatty ten-minute radio programme of him speaking over a background of wildlife sounds that was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on 1st November 1985 under the title Natural Selection: In Search of the Aye-Aye. Douglas returned to the subject of the Aye-Aye, specifically the evolution of its distinctive middle finger, in a one-minute programme for a 1998 BBC2 series called Natural Selections, with his contribution broadcast on March 28th.

An account of the Madagascar trip, and how it led to the others, is given in the introductory chapter of Last Chance to See entitled Twig Technology. After successfully finding the Aye-Aye, Mark was telling Douglas about some of the many other endangered species and Douglas goes and gets his Filofax and says, “I've just got a couple of novels to write, but, er, what are you doing in 1988?” The preparation for these later trips is discussed in Neil Gaiman's book, Don't Panic: The Official Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy Companion, published in 1988, and mentions three particular species that they planned to look for: the Kouprey, the Quetzal and the Kakapo. The last of these did make it into the final selection, but the Kouprey, an ox-like creature found in Vietnam and the Quetzal, the national bird of Guatemala, did not. Choosing where to go and what to see was somewhat haphazard with Mark and Douglas horse-trading over a map of the world about where they wanted to go and what they wanted to see. “The Congo? The Seychelles? Split the difference – Mauritius”, reported Gaiman's book, which also said that initial thoughts were to produce a television series, but the first place they asked about filming was in China and as the permit was going to cost £200,000 they quickly shelved that idea, and turned it into a radio series. The radio series was eventually funded by the advance on the book, with the authors paying the expenses of the BBC sound engineers that individually accompanied them: Gaynor Shutte and Chris Muir.

The various trips to search for the animals eventually took place in 1988 and 1989 after Douglas wrote the two Dirk Gently novels and Mark had to change all the arrangements because the books took a little longer than expected. The book of Last Chance to See is still in print, but the full radio series seems only been to have been broadcast in the UK in October / November 1989, with a repeat of four of the six episodes the next year. A clip from the show made the prestigious Pick of the Year BBC radio selection. The full set of episodes did receive an airing in Australia in 2001, and the Fruit Bat episode was included in the three-hour tribute to Adams broadcast on BBC7 in 2003. There are clips from each episode on the triple CD package, Douglas Adams at the BBC.

Last Chance to See – Radio Episode Guide
Prelude: Natural Selection: In Search of the Aye-Aye [Aye-Aye Lemurs - 01/11/1985]
  1. Ralph, The Fragrant Parrot Of Codfish Island [Kakapo Parrot - 04/10/1989]
  2. Gone Fishing! [Yangtze River Dolphin - 11/10/1989]
  3. Animal, Vegetable Or Mineral? [Amazonian Manatee - 18/10/1989]
  4. The Answer Is Blowing In The Wind [Rodrigues Fruit Bat - 25/10/1989]
  5. A Man-Eating, Evil-Smelling Dragon [Komodo Dragon - 01/11/1989]
  6. The Sultan Of Juan Fernandez [Fur Seal - 08/11/1989]
The episodes went out at 12.25pm on Wednesdays with a repeat at 8.00pm on the following Sunday. In the absence of a commercial release, all the episodes should be available to listen to at the National Sound Archive. In May 1997 Radio 4 broadcast another set of five fifteen-minute programmes under the title Last Chance to See. These were Douglas reading from the Komodo Dragon chapter of the book, and a companion website was created at the time is still available at http://tdv.com/lastchance/

The radio series was made with each episode having three or four Hitchhikers Guide style vignettes read by Peter Jones, but with the majority of the content coming from the on the spot recordings made on their travels. These provide their instant reaction to what they are seeing allowing Mark to describe the creatures and Douglas to give his commentary. There are also some more considered comments that were recorded by Douglas after their return that has a background of typewriter noises. The radio programmes featured in a two-page article in the Radio Times (30/09/1989) that quoted Douglas as saying, “The intention of the series is to be serious, but because I'm a comedy writer the tone will be light. The aim is to bring these issues to a broader audience: greens tend to preach to the converted on green issues.”

Writing the book to accompany the series was somewhat of a struggle. Mark and Douglas planned to do this over the course of four months at a villa in Juan-les-Pins in the South of France. With Mark commuting weekly and Douglas there full time, they managed to produce a solitary page, although they did do a great deal of planning and lunching. Returning to London the pair were apparently locked into Douglas's house in Islington in order to produce the book, which, so the story goes, the publishers took as soon as they thought it was long enough. The page written in France didn't make the final edit. This is one of the reasons that two of the species they searched for did not make the book at all: the Juan Fernandez Fur Seal and the Amazonian Manatee. The audio version of the book, the English version of which is read by Douglas Adams, further excludes a couple of the book chapters in order to fit the double cassette format.

Last Chance to See – Book Chapter Guide
  1. Twig Technology [Aye-Aye]
  2. Here Be Chickens [Komodo Dragon]
  3. Leopardskin Pillbox Hat [Northern White Rhino / Gorilla]
  4. Heartbeats in the Night [Kakapo]
  5. Blind Panic [River Dolphin]
  6. Rare, or Medium Rare? [Rodrigues Fruit Bat]
  7. Sifting Through the Embers [Sibylline Books]
  8. Mark's Last Word ... [Summary / News]
A CD-ROM followed in 1992, produced by The Voyager Company. This has audio recordings of Douglas reading the whole of the book as well as some contributions from Mark about the individual animals and extracts from their on the spot recordings. There are also over 800 photographs from the trip included in the multimedia package. In 2001 a German company re-released the CD-ROM, the book having been successful in translation into German, and a German audio-book also being available. Other translations of the book include Dutch, Polish, Czech and Hebrew editions.



The trips that he and Mark undertook awoke within Douglas a sense of wonderment at the natural world that can be seen in his subsequent writings. Both Mostly Harmless (1992), with the section about Perfectly Normal Beast, and the Salmon of Doubt (2002) with the Rhino's point of view of a rampage, reflect the development of his ecological awareness. In a March 1998 interview with Matt Newsome, partly reproduced in The Salmon of Doubt, Douglas mentions the impact of his trip to Madagascar on the first Dirk Gently book, although the author admitted that “I recast it for various reasons as Mauritius”. The interview also touched on the possibility of a Last Chance to See TV series, although Douglas presaged that part of the interview with “I probably shouldn't say this” as the discussions were only just beginning, and at the time came to naught. After publishing the first Dirk Gently book, Douglas became friends with Richard Dawkins who had written Douglas a fan letter after reading the novel, and this again reinforced and developed his interest in evolution and natural history. Douglas eventually became a patron of both Save The Rhino and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, charities for which the annual Douglas Adams Memorial Lectures have raised money.

A set of follow-up trips were touted and an article appeared in The Times (19th February 1991) which indicated that the pair were to be even more intrepid than on their previous trips and look specifically at species whose predicaments had been caused by their proximity to war zones. Again the Kouprey was mentioned by name, described as living “on the borders of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, which has been devastated by minefields”. The article also mentioned the pair having researched the plight of animals in Afghanistan, Uganda and Nicaragua, and the potential of looking at the predicament of fish and birds in the oil spills of the (First) Gulf War zone. This is as far as the second series seemed to get, however, the Last Chance to See story does not end there, as nearly twenty years after the original radio series we now have the prospect of a televisual update with the working title Another Chance to See.

At a lecture in London in November 2006, to raise money for tiger conservation, Mark Carwardine was introduced as “the author of 54 books, and shortly to film a series with Stephen Fry”. Asked about it after the lecture Mark confirmed that he was in the process of arranging the filming dates for going to visit the people and animals that he had seen with Douglas and hoped the series would be broadcast in Spring of 2008. Stephen Fry would be filling the role of enthusiastic amateur now Douglas is no longer with us, and was not only a great friend of Adams, but also has his own environmental pedigree with his TV programme, book on the Spectacled Bear, as well as a charity to help protect it. The TV series has had quite a long gestation. Stephen Fry mentioned on a webchat that he was in discussions about this project with Mark back in June 2006. Another Chance to See seemed to take a major step forward when the TV company Iostar announced it on their website as part of their launch at the TV trade show MIP-TV in Cannes during the second week of April 2007. Part of the text ran: “This time it's Stephen Fry at the helm with Carwardine, as they revisit the six featured endangered species and bring their stories right up to date. From Madagascar to Mauritius, and from China to the Congo, the pair will be guided by the ethereal presence of Douglas Adams whose voice lives on, loud and clear in scene-setting audio.” The company then went spectacularly bust soon afterwards. However, the project was far from being dodo-like...

Added by Gareth, September 2009
In January 2008, Stephen Fry and Mark Carwardine set off on the first filming expedition, to try and find the Amazonian Manatee. Unfortunately, Stephen fell off a boat dock and broke his arm badly, but the first of the films was in the can.

Further filming expeditions followed from mid-2008 through the spring of 2009. Stephen Fry "Twitter-ed" their progress regularly, and the BBC provided blogs and video clips on their new Last Chance To See website. The website also gradually released streaming audio of the entire original radio series. As the radio series had never received a commercial release before, this was very well received by fans.

Working titles for the films were "Another Chance To See" and "Last Chance To See - The Return", but ultimately the series would end up being called "Last Chance To See". On Sunday 6th October 2009, the six-part TV series began on BBC2 at 8p.m.

Last Chance to See – TV Episode Guide
  1. Last Chance to See: Amazonian Manatee [6/9/2009]
  2. Last Chance to See: Northern White Rhino [13/9/2009]
  3. Last Chance to See: Aye Aye [20/9/2009]
  4. Last Chance to See: Komodo Dragon [27/9/2009]
  5. Last Chance to See: Kakapo [4/10/2009]
  6. Last Chance to See: Blue Whale [18/10/2009]
To accompany the TV series, Mark Carwardine wrote a new Last Chance To See book, with a foreward by Stephen Fry, which was released in hardback on September 3rd 2009, published by Collins. A DVD and Blu-ray of the TV series was released on October 19th, 2009.



A version of this article, also by David Haddock, first appeared in issue #105 of Mostly Harmless, the magazine of ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha, the Official Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Appreciation Society. See http://www.zz9.org.

Apologies for the re-post, but with the TV series about to begin, Dave's article deserves another visit to the front page

Last Chance To See - TV Series: Guardian Article

There's a fabulous feature on The Guardian website about the Last Chance To See TV series. Stephen Fry begins the feature, which then links to some excerpts from the new book that accompanies the series (by Mark Carwardine, with Stephen Fry). There's also a very nice picture gallery.
I had been sharing a place in Dalston at this time with a group of friends from university, but we were now at the stage where it was possible to consider splitting up and buying our own flats and houses. I wanted to find a place in Islington, but also felt that I needed time to look around and wait for the perfect property. Perhaps I should rent first? I offloaded my tedious residential worries on Douglas one afternoon as we sat in his study staring at a Mac and wondering, for the thousandth time, if we could stop it going "boing" and closing down whenever we tried to do something unusual with it.

"Why don't you stay here for a year?" he suggested. "You can house-sit for me. I've decided to go round the world for 12 months seeking out rare animals."

"You've de-whatted to go round the what, whatting out whats?"
Read on

Last Chance To See: ARKive Scrapbook

There's a special "Last Chance to See Scrapbook" setup on the fabulous ARKive website, all about the animals Stephen Fry and Mark Carwardine have been (re)visiting for the Last Chance To See TV series.

ARKive is a unique collection of thousands of wildlife videos, images and fact-files, with a special focus on the world's threatened species.

Thanks to Dave Haddock

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Kakapo Parrots: The 124 Birds

Please visit The Kakapo Recovery ProgrammeWith the chance re-discovery of Rangi in February of this year, we stood at 91 living Kakapo Parrots, before a flurry of breeding produced 33 additional chicks (20 male & 13 female), bringing us up to 124 birds.

This Wikipedia page contains the most up-to-date information on their names, but here they are in a simplified view, with much of their family tree information removed.
FEMALES - Total 57
Alice
Aparima
Aranga
Bella
Boomer
Cyndy
Ellie
Esperance
Flossie
Fuchsia
Hananui
Hauturu
Heather
Hine taumai
Hoki
Jane
Jean
JEM
Konini
Kuia
Kuihi
Lisa
Maggie
Marama
Margaret-Maree "Marmar"
Mila
Monoa
Nora
Pearl
Pounamu
Pura
Rakiura
Ruth
Sandra
Sara
Solstice
Sue
Suzanne
Toitiiti
Tumeke
Weheruatanga o te po
Wendy
Yasmin
Zephyr
13 2009 Chicks
---
Recently deceased
John-Girl (Died: September, 1991)
Aroha (died: July 2004)
Aurora (died: July 2004)
Vollie (died: July 2004)
MALES - Total 67
Al
Arab
Ariki
Barnard
Basil
Ben
Blades
Blake
Bonus
Boss
Dobbie
Doc
Elwin (Unofficial name)
Felix
Gulliver
Gumboots
Horton
Jester
Jimmy
Joe
Kumi
Lionel
Luke
Manu
Merty
Merv
Morehu
Nog
Ox
Palmer-san
Piripi
Ralph
Rangi (First Captured 1987. Rediscovered February 2009, after hiding for 21 years on Codfish Island)
Richard Henry
Robbie
Rooster (Unofficial name)
Sass
Sinbad
Sirocco
Smoko
Stumpy
Takitimu
Te Kingi
Tiwai
Trevor
Waynebo
Whiskas
20 2009 chicks
---
Recently deceased
Gerry (Died: 1991)
Pegasus (Died: 1993)
Rob (Died: February 1994)
Ken (Died: July 1998)
Gunner (died: winter 2005)
Bill (died: March 2008, 2008: father of:...)
Mokopuna (died: April 2008, 2008 Chick #7)
Lee (died: October 28, 2008)

Video: Mountain Gorillas... 98.6% Human

Please enjoy the following video from explore Africa, winner of the 2009 Maui Film Festival.
On a trip to Rwanda, explore had the opportunity to visit four families of wild mountain gorillas, a species with only 720 remaining members. Their guide is Craig Sholley, who has been intimately involved in the preservation of African wildlife for more than 30 years. The team's thrilling interaction with these peaceful creatures - who share 98.6% of their genetic makeup with humans - is a startling reminder of their own humanity. Distributed by Tubemogul.
Direct video link at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=co8NneR8ilc

TV Series Trailer

The voice of Stephen Fry, from a trailer playing on the BBC...
My journey begins in lands far away, in search of the rarest of creatures,
the bushy tailed Aye-Aye, with witch-like fingers,
the fragrant whiskered Kakapo Parrot, way too heavy for flight,
the fork-tongued Komodo Dragon, breathing its foul breath,
the white rhino with strange squared lips,
and the mermaid like Manatee, blissfully gliding through rivers,
all wonderful beasts, but all endangered.
Follow my quest to find them, before they fade away... forever.


Join Stephen Fry in what might be our Last Chance To See. Sunday at Eight, on BBC2.

Thanks to a commenter below, the video may be available in the UK at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sHFnNc8Qzjg

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

BBC Last Chance to See Blog: Brazil Conclusions

Mark Carwardine has posted a blog entry on the BBC Last Chance to See Blog about the Brazilian trip to see the Amazonian Manatees.
Last Chance to See hits our screens this week starting in the Amazon. I was a little apprehensive about this first shoot to be honest. Travelling with Stephen was going to be like travelling with Wikipedia. I remember sending a video blog about this at the time. He's far too unassuming and generous to make anyone feel in any way deficient on purpose, but there's no escaping the fact that he's the kind of person who makes you continually question your own intellect.

TV Series: Full Schedule

Mark Carwardine's site now has the full broadcast schedule for the Last Chance To See TV series. I've sneaked a look at the trailer for the show, and it looks absolutely splendid. All episodes will be found on BBC2, from Sunday 6 September, starting at 8p.m.
6 SEPTEMBER - Last Chance to See: Amazonian Manatee
13 SEPTEMBER - Last Chance to See: Northern White Rhino
20 SEPTEMBER- Last Chance to See: Aye Aye
27 SEPTEMBER- Last Chance to See: Komodo Dragon
11 OCTOBER - Last Chance to See: Kakapo
18 OCTOBER -Last Chance to See: Blue Whale
Thanks to Dave Haddock

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Kakapo Parrots: The Last Release

The Kakapo Recovery Programme Ranger Diary has just posted a nice update on the release of the last of the 2009 season’s chicks. Hananui’s chick in now getting accustomed to life in the Whenua Hou forest.
This release was special for the team for a number of reasons. Firstly, she has been on a recovery mission having arrived back from Auckland Zoo’s Veterinary centre following treatment for an infected footpad and a torn eyelid. She has always been an intrepid climber and presumably these injuries were sustained during an overly ambitious attempt to summit one of the Manukas in the chick pen. On discovery of her injuries the team kept close watch on her health. After initial improvement her foot became more swollen and it was clear that she would need Veterinary assistance.

She was flown off Codfish Island and Sandy Cooper of Invercargill performed a minor operation to trim the damaged eyelid and remove dead tissue from the wound on the underside of her foot. All patched up, our young Kakapo flew up to Auckland on the same day, and thrived under the care of the Auckland Zoo Veterinary staff, recovering quickly and returning to us ready to be weaned. She spent ten days in the Codfish Island chick pen, at which time we knew she was ready for the forest-proper.