Natural History Museum opens thanks to private gifts

 

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From left: Mr Wong, Chairman of DS Lee Foundation Dr Della Lee, Mr Teo, Dr Tan, Prof Tan, Director of Lee Foundation Dr Lee Seng Tee and Prof Ng viewing the Rafflesia.

The Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) was officially opened by Dr Tony TAN Keng Yam, Singapore President and Chancellor of the National University of Singapore (NUS) on 18 April. Established through philanthropic gifts totalling $56 million, LKCNHM aims to be a leader in Southeast Asian biodiversity and conservation research, education and outreach.

The seven-storey 8,500-square-metre Museum houses more than 560,000 catalogued lots and over a million specimens from the region. The museum, which traces its roots to the original Raffles Museum of 1878, is the oldest such institution in the region.

Dr Tan graced the official opening with more than 250 guests in attendance. They included Deputy Prime Minister TEO Chee Hean; Singapore’s Ambassador-at-Large and Honorary Chairman of the National Heritage Board Prof Tommy KOH; NUS’ Pro-Chancellors Mr Po’ad MATTAR and Mr NGIAM Tong Dow; NUS Chairman Mr WONG Ngit Liong; NUS President Prof TAN Chorh Chuan and major donors.

In his speech, Dr Tan fondly reminisced about the opening of the Zoological Reference Collection in 1988, which he graced as the then Minister for Education. He said that the efforts then were to bring all the collections under one institution and ensure that they were well managed.

“The Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum is an excellent example of a ground-up initiative that brings together Singaporeans from all walks of life, to contribute to a worthwhile cause. This museum will serve to educate many generations of Singaporeans the importance of protecting our heritage and contribute to regional and global biodiversity research,” he said.

Dr Tan was later presented with the book Of Whales and Dinosaurs: The Story of Singapore’s Natural History Museum and a First Day Cover set of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum Commemorative Stamps by Prof Tan.

Said Prof Tan: “The opening of the iconic Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum is of special significance to the NUS community, as we celebrate the University’s 110th Anniversary and Singapore’s 50th year of independence this year. This new, state-of-the-art museum and research centre will greatly boost NUS’ efforts in biodiversity education, research and conservation.”

Head of LKCNHM, Prof Peter NG, said in his remarks at the opening: “It has taken NUS a very long time to fulfil the ‘impossible dream’ – 45 years since [the Raffles Museum] left Stamford Road and over 10 years since Prof [Tommy] Koh set us on this journey. I apologise for this tardiness in delivery. The difficult NUS will do immediately, the impossible, that takes a LITTLE more time. But we did it.”

Taking centrestage are the three highly anticipated diplodocid sauropod fossils. Believed to be part of a herd or even a family, they are especially rare due to their almost complete skeletons. These massive dinosaurs dominate the main gallery, showcasing the diversity and history of life on Earth, as well as serving as a reminder of extinction events and how life has evolved.

The main gallery, comprising 15 zones, tracks the history of life on earth, among them green plants, fungi, molluscs, arthropods, birds and mammals. Other sections demonstrate the evolution of terrestrial vertebrates from “fish” and why birds are surviving “dinosaurs”.

The mezzanine floor, home to the heritage zone, presents the history of the Raffles Museum and LKCNHM. This gallery holds the “Cabinets of Curiosities” where visitors can examine Singapore’s history of biodiversity exploration; the people who helped build this; and the biological treasures accumulated over 137 years. A zone titled “Singapore Today” reveals the geology of the island and the important conservation efforts by national agencies.

The LKCNHM represents a treasure trove of the region’s rich natural heritage. Its internationally renowned Zoological Reference Collection, formerly called the Raffles Collection, dates back to 1849. One of the most comprehensive collections of Singapore and Malayan animal specimens in the world, its 150,000 specimens of Southeast Asian vertebrates stand out in significance internationally, particularly the bird and freshwater fish collections. One of the most prized possessions is an Asian Brown Flycatcher bird collected by British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, the co-founder of the theory of evolution.

Complementing the fauna is the NUS Herbarium founded in 1955, which documents more than 33,000 plant specimens, mainly from Singapore and Malaysia.

The Museum also has a modern cryofacility using liquid nitrogen to store over 12,000 important plant and animal tissue samples as well as advanced facilities for molecular work.

Representatives of top natural history museums overseas Dr Jan VAN TOL, Department Head – Terrestrial Zoology, Naturalis Biodiversity Center in The Netherlands and Dr Damir KOVAC, Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum in Frankfurt, Germany, who were among the distinguished guests at the event, gave the Museum a thumbs-up.

Dr van Tol, who had previously visited the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, found the new museum a big improvement in terms of research condition and collection. “They did a good job to prepare an overview of plants and animals of Singapore and the region…and also the relationships and ecological networks,” he said. “The good thing is there are also specimens collected a hundred years ago as part of the collection. People can be aware of the present condition and also of that a long time ago.”

Dr Kovac added that unlike some museums which display many pictures, the LKCNHM has many specimens and a lot of information. “You can also touch many things, which is nice for children,” he added, referring to the different skins on display. He also commended the historical part and the specimens collected by Wallace.

“I consider this museum as a gift by NUS to the people of Singapore,” said Prof Koh, who first asked NUS to consider setting up a natural history museum 12 years ago as Chairman of the National Heritage Board then, in his speech at the event. “It is another jewel in our cultural crown.”

The LKCNHM, located at NUS Kent Ridge Campus in the vicinity of the University Cultural Centre and the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music, will be open to the public from 28 April 2015. Its operating hours are from 10am to 7pm, Tuesdays to Sundays, including public holidays. See Admissions and Ticketing details.



This article was first published on 18 April 2015 in NUS News at http://news.nus.edu.sg/highlights/8875-natural-history-museum-opens