Thirteen years ago I bought this book from a wondrous second hand book shop in Preston. I bought it as I was and still am a huge fan of Douglas Adams. I bought it on a whim, and really didn’t think too deeply about it. It lounged on my bookshelf (a fruit box stood on its end, the up most in student chic) for a few months till I found myself with a little time to read. Actually, this free time to read was in the back of a university mini bus, driving what felt like hundreds of miles north through Scotland to the island of Rum.
I ate my way through the book, and was stunned. The book was shockingly sad and beautiful at the same time. It was written with Douglas’ trade mark whit, but also with his cutting observations. The book ended up being passed around the mini bus, and I think was read by at least twelve people during our four weeks of field work.
I can’t speak for the others who read it back on Rum, but it really did effect me. I thought often of the Aye Aye and the Yangtze River Dolphin, and most of all about the Kakapo.
For my tenth birthday I was allowed to move into a bigger bedroom which I had helped decorate, and covered the walls with my posters of ponies and most importantly my maps of Europe and New Zealand. Out of all the places in the world that I wanted to visit (and still do) NZ topped an extremely long list. I’m pleased to say that within Europe I have managed to get to many of the places on my list, and marked off on my map but NZ always seemed to be an unattainable dream.
That was until my amazing husband made my dream come true when he took me to NZ for our Honeymoon last December. We traveled for just over three weeks all over North and South Islands, hiked up Glaciers and spent so much time just looking at the wildlife.
It was bliss.
I had hoped that we would get a chance to finally see a Kakapo, the crazy, some may say (Ian included) stupid flightless parrot which hangs so perilously on the edge of extinction. Sadly not.
The Kakapo is so rare, but thankfully so protected, it is almost impossible to see one in the wild. We saw films in wildlife sanctuaries about the conservation project which is working so hard to help the Kakapo survive, we heard recordings of it’s amazing Booming call and we sadly saw stuffed birds in glass cases.
We came back to England in January 2009 and all I could talk about was the Kakapo, and how there were only 92 birds alive. So I was extremely emotional when we watched Stephen Fry and Mark Carwardine’s programme, Last Chance to See which follows in Douglas’ footsteps, twenty years on.
If you didn’t get a chance to watch the programme, please do. They are heartbreaking and hopeful at the same time. Some animals, like the Kakapo have made huge strides in twenty years. When Douglas and Mark first met the Kakapo in 1988, there were only about 40 birds, when Ian and I were in NZ in January 2009 that total had risen to 92, and I am thrilled to say that after the most successful breeding period for the Kakapo, this summer, the total of Kakapo alive has soared to 124.
6 Billion people in the world and 124 Kakapo. Makes you shiver doesn’t it?
If you get the chance, or the time please do watch the BBC series. It is terrific. Stephen Fry is wonderfully British about the whole event but at the same time he manages to hit home the problems facing many creatures in the world, which in our life time may just loose their balance and fall on the wrong side of the extinction precipice.