© Serious Productions, Ltd. and Mark Carwardine, cover painting © Robert Giusti.
I think this is the funniest nature book I’ve ever read, and perhaps one of the saddest as well.
We’ve had this in the house for a few years, Ellen read it, and I always meant to as well, and finally got to it. Knowing Douglas Adams as the author of the humorous science fiction series of books and plays, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” I expected it to be funny, but I also thought Adams must be a nature enthusiast with a hobby of seeking out highly endangered species. Not so, in fact Adams was sort of a stunt-casting writer for this book, put together with Carwardine, a real British naturalist, by the BBC for what they hoped would be an entertaining series for the radio. I can see how this must have happened, a few execs thinking, “That Hitchhiker’s Guide was quite popular on the radio, let’s send him out in the real world looking for creatures as exotic as the ones in the show.” Adams seems to have thought it would be fun, too, though most of the funniest parts come from all the times that weren’t much fun: dealing with human bureaucracy in all its Byzantine glory, for instance, dealing with harsh travel and local conditions and weather, even dealing with animals that couldn’t be found at all.
Adams’ humor makes it all a very entertaining read. The sad part comes from the situations created by humanity that lead to animal (and plant) extinctions at an ever increasing pace all over the world, often through simple ignorance and neglect more than evil intent. Adams makes all that quite clear as well. So, even as we can laugh at silly animals like the Kakapo, a flightless parrot once common in New Zealand, now almost gone, that has such a complex and arcane courting ritual it almost never succeeds, even when all parties are willing, or the river dolphins in China trying to survive in water so polluted they can rarely be seen at all, or the Komodo dragons, giant lizards worthy of the name dinosaur who have become a sort of sideshow attraction for a select group of tourists.
Despite the sad situations many of these animals are in, Adams describes how some dedicated people are making a difference in their possible survival, though it’s always precarious when a species is almost gone, and that also makes for interesting reading. Even if you’re not a huge nature fan, you’ll enjoy this book’s engaging and funny approach to the subject. Recommended.