Atlas Obscura Book Club Discussion 3/6: Last Chance to See, Week 3

Welcome back to the Atlas Obscura Book Club discussion volume 3!

Today’s thread will be our penultimate (love that word) discussion of Last Chance to See by Douglas Adams and Mark Carwardine. We’ll be looking at the fifth and sixth chapters, “Blind Panic” and “Rare, or Medium Rare,” alternately one of the most heartbreaking and one of the most hilarious chapters so far. Let’s not talk about fruit bats.

(Image: DickDaniels/ CC BY-SA 3.0)

If you’re new to the discussion, feel free to check out the previous threads here! Here’s how the discussion works: We’ll post some discussion topics in a short series of comments below. If you’d like to comment on a specific discussion topic, click the greyed-out “replies” button near the bottom of the discussion post. You can then comment on that discussion post specifically. There will likely be a number of people commenting on multiple discussions, so any time you feel like you may have lost the thread, you can copy and paste questions into your new comment, or you can always check the replies from the original discussion topic. We’re still working out the kinks on these kinds of discussions, so if you have any thoughts or suggestions on how to improve our group discussions, please let us know here.

And with that, let’s talk about the sadness of the baiji and the delightful madmen of Mauritius! Below are some supplementary materials related to the reading that we thought might be interesting, and the discussion topics can be found in the comments below.

  • While Mark, Doug, and crew weren’t able to hear able to capture the sound of the Yangtze River dolphin, and now that they are officially extinct no one else can either, you can still hear it here.
  • Copulation hats like the one that Mad Carl used to collect genetic material from the pink pigeons are a thing.
  • Fine. You want to see the Rodrigues fruit bat? Here it is.
  • And in case you were in the dark about Richard Clayderman… enjoy.

General thoughts and observations? Favorite passages? Thoughts on Adams calling the dodo “a plumpy”?

It took some ingenuity and quick-thinking to come up with the impromptu underwater condom mic, and travel seems to often present opportunities such as that for quick thinking. Have you ever had to come up with a “Macgyver” solution to a travel problem?

One of my favorite parts of the book so far were the descriptions of the passionate conservationists on Mauritius. Their love for and connection with the animals they worked with was hilariously intense. Have you ever had a profound moment of connection with an animal while traveling?

At the very end of “Rare, or Medium Rare,” Adams describes a solitary wild coffee plant that is protected by rings and rings of barbed wire. What’s the rarest thing you’ve ever seen on your travels?

I found these two chapters far more depressing. Where Adams says about the extinction of the Dodo Bird we are not sadder but wiser, more sadder but more well informed was heartbreaking. And the idea of triage when it comes to what species to save…the fruit bats are fine. I cried. Real tears.


It was sobering reading about animals that had likely become extinct since the book was published.

It was fun reading words from Mark at the end, since heretofore I’d only heard his voice through the author.

The parts about the mad ornithologists were absolutely magnificent. Also, “Mad Ornithologists” would be a great name for a band.


Audio engineers are amazing improvisors. You see a lot of that in terms of special effects, where someone figures out that removing the lid from a Mason jar held in an empty toilet sounds like an alien spacecraft opening its airlock.

I wish I had my own stories of brilliant travel-necessitated improvisation, but mine have been pretty pedestrian.


The sadder, but not wiser moments are very true and almost achingly sad. But I feel like the entire book has a sort of gallows humor that shined through for me, even in these chapters. Thank you for not talking about the fruit bats.

Have you ever had a profound moment of connection with an animal while traveling?

There were a couple sweet pups wandering around Herculaneum that made lingering at the sad site more bearable.

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Have you ever had to come up with a “Macgyver” solution to a travel problem?

I know someone who made a bandage out of a fast food bag.

I haven’t needed to do anything like that yet, fortunately, though I have also gone through some trips and changes with bags to keep a camera lens usable in the rain for as long as possible.

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This may be a cynical response, but stolen objects come to mind, particularly in the British Museum. I may be thinking more so of the shock of the rare sight of so many plundered treasures under one roof.

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“Fast food bandage” sounds like a classic MacGyver move.

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I was surprised at the number of dogs I saw at Pompeii, though we didn’t see any at Herculaneum when we went this past fall. I didn’t really connect with them though–they were doing their own thing and had no interest in the humans at the site! It was interesting though to see them living among the ruins. They clearly knew their way around.

During a road trip several years ago we stopped at a rest stop in Utah and there were ground squirrels everywhere. They would come right up to you instead of scattering when you were near them. They were well-fed on human food. This isn’t really profound, but it was unexpected and fun even though I’m sure their diets of fries, chips, crackers, and other junk food was bad for them. I think our quick pit stop turned into an hour of watching and interacting with the squirrels.

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