Douglas Adams on endangered life

May 2, 2010 • 7:07 am

In honor of today’s book winner, Last Chance to See, I’m putting up a 75-minute talk by Douglas Adams on the book (which he describes as his favorite) and endangered species.  This was presented in 2001 at The University of California at Santa Barbara, only a few days before Adams’s tragic death at age 49 from a heart attack.  He’s a superb speaker.

Note his mention of speciation starting at 1:08:25!  There’s a question-and-answer session at the end.

13 thoughts on “Douglas Adams on endangered life

  1. Not to be grumpy or anything, but the world has changed a lot in the last 20 years (this book was published in 1990). If I wanted to read a book about endangered species, I’d read something more recent.

    1. Well then you’ll probably like the new version of the book by Mark Carwardine and Stephen Fry (and the associated BBC series).

    2. If you do that, you’d miss a truely wonderful book. This book is not about teaching you the situation of endangered species today, it tries to convey *why* it is so important to conserve species, and some of the wonder of the natural world that we might, if we keep doing what we do, lose for ever.

      And it’s funny. very funny.

      1. Yes, I understand this, and that’s why I chose the book. The situation has only become worse, and I doubt that many of the species discussed in the book are no longer endangered or threatened. I for one will be reading this book!

  2. What a privilege to see the late and great Douglas Adams again, and what a loss he was, dying so young.

  3. @Jean: I suppose you’re right. The world has changed in the past 20 years, as far as endangered species are concerned. More of them are endangered, and they are more endangered and so far 2010 as the International Year of Biodiversity has done nothing to change anything.

  4. I spotted this linked from TED a few weeks ago, and something bugged me about it that I wanted to pick up with someone. He mentions that the Yangtze River Dolphin only started to evolve it’s characteristic eyes in response to human activity on the Yangtze (i.e. farming), but that struck me as incredibly fast, and I can’t find anywhere else that discusses it. Is it plausible?

    1. I have not watched it recently, but if I remember correctly Adams did not attribute the loss of eye function to human activety causing the river to be even more silty than otherwise, but said only that the dolphins were well suited to the extremely murky waters of the modern day river because in the past their eyesite had atrophied and their sonar had become enhanced.

      I could be mis remembering though.

      The Ganges and Indus river dolphins are also functionally blind, though the Amazon river dolphin is not. It is currently thought that the Yangtze river dolphin first inhabited the Yangtze about 20 million years ago.

    2. I agree – it was weird, because he went from saying that the kakapo didn’t have time to evolve in response to human activity to saying that the dolphin did.

  5. Nice talk. However, I’m left puzzled by Adams’s explanation of the slow reproduction rate of the Kakapo? To me it seems rather like a good-of-a-species argument. They reproduce slowly, because otherwise, in the past environment, it would have perhaps led to the extinction of the entire species? Well, shouldn’t those individuals who digress(ed) from this rule, and reproduced faster, be still better off (leaving more offspring) than those who “obey” the imperative of slow reproduction? Even if the consequence of such behavior was the species’extinction? I think, there are some examples in nature, where natural selection among individuals has lead to the extinction of the species (some kind of seal, mentioned either in WEIT or TGSOE – sorry for my less than perfect memory). Could someone with more expertise comment on this? Thanks.

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