by Lisa M.A. Winters, contributing writer
The black rhino has not yet gone to space, but that’s not for Douglas Adams trying. The famed science fiction/fantasy author and conservationist would have been 62 this year, in or out of a rhino suit.
Although he’s best known for his long career in various media — Monty Python’s Flying Circus writing and acting, miscellaneous TV and radio projects leading up to the hugely popular radio series The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and his writing and editing for Doctor Who — he may have been prouder of his conservation work, mostly in the ’90s. He and naturalist Mark Carwardine created the radio programme Last Chance to See in 1989. This was followed up by a companion book in 2009 available in multiple formats, and another series in 2009 hosted by Stephen Fry. Adams referred to Last Chance to See as his own favourite book (the one that sold the least). The two men visited remote locations where endangered species lived on the brink of extinction.
In 1994, he promoted saving the black rhino by joining Save the Rhino in a climb up Mount Kilimanjaro, supporting the Mkomazi Rhino Sanctuary. Another African effort he supported was the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund. “Normally we take pride in looking after our relatives properly, but in this case we don’t appear to have done so. There are nearly five billion of us on this planet, but of the mountain gorillas there are less than 650. 650 mountain gorillas in danger of extinction. Five billion of us and growing.” — from Gorillaland.net.
One of his last public appearances was not about comedy or science fiction, or his unique blend of the two, but about conservation. His TED Talk, “Parrots, the universe and everything” presents Adams discussing his encounters with wildlife and is summed up as “evolution, ever ingenious, can be fickle too”.
On Adams’ passing, his friend and fellow atheist Richard Dawkins said, “Science has lost a friend, literature has lost a luminary, the mountain gorilla and the black rhino have lost a gallant defender.”
Other than the notable Google Doodle for this day in 2013, perhaps the best commemoration for Douglas Adams’s contribution to humanity is the Douglas Adams Memorial Lecture, sponsored by Save the Rhino. Appropriately enough, the 10th anniversary of his death became a huge party . Here’s to the man who made an even number a cultural icon, and the world a better place.