The book Last Chance to See by Douglas Adams and Mark Carwardine was first published in 1990, as a companion to the BBC radio series of the same name. The theme of documentary was to feature animal species which were endangered or threatened with extinction.
The Observer Colour Magazine initiated moves in 1985 to send a zoologist, Mark Carwardine, and a writer, Douglas Adams, to Madagascar, to search for the aye-aye, a nearly extinct lemur. Later this developed into several journeys to find various species, including the Komodo dragon on the island of Komodo in Indonesia, gorillas and white rhinoceroses in Zaire, Kakapos in New Zealand, the Yangtze River Dolphin in China, Rodrigues fruit bats (megabat) on the island of Rodrigues, and various other species in these locations. Many of these excursions became the basis for the BBC Radio 4 series of the same name.
Many of the excursions were written into the companion book, though not all, allegedly due to Adams' notorious writing delays. An example is that of the Amazonian Manatee, covered in a radio episode first transmitted on 18 October 1989, but not in the subsequent book.
The first American hardcover edition was published by Harmony Books in 1991 (under ISBN 0-517-58215-5) and the first German paperback edition was published in 1992 by Heyne (under ISBN 3-453-06115-2). These varying editions are notable for carrying slightly different photographs of the journeys. An abridged audiobook read by Adams was also published.
The Voyager Company also published a 2 CD-ROM set (for Microsoft Windows 3.1 and Macintosh System 7), in 1992, featuring over 800 still photographs, Adams reading the complete book, Carwardine reading fact files on the species they searched for, and extracts from the BBC Radio 4 series.
In April 2007 a follow-up television series, also called Last Chance to See, with Stephen Fry joining Mark Carwardine as presenters and Douglas Adams contributing via audio recordings, was announced as a BBC / Iostar co-production. Although the Iostar TV company has since gone into liquidation, Carwardine announced in July 2007 that the project is still going ahead, with filming scheduled for late 2007 and early 2008. The first filming for the series, which is now a co-production between BBC Wales and West Park Pictures took place in the Amazon and Florida in December 2007. In January 2008, Fry broke his right arm whilst filming in Brazil for the programme.
Later editions of the book had two lines of a humorous exchange during an interview with Doctor Struan Sutherland, an Australian venomous-reptiles expert, in the chapter on their trip to Indonesia to see the Komodo dragon ("Here Be Chickens"), deleted from the end of the interview. The reason for the deletion is unknown. Earlier editions had the exchange ending with Adams asking the expert whether there were any venomous creatures he liked, and the expert replying, "There was, but she left me."
In the biography/essay collection published after his death, The Salmon of Doubt, Adams describes Last Chance to See as his favorite work.