Author: thericebucket

Launch of the Jubilee Whale Exhibit!


After 249 days since the carcass of a Sperm Whale was spotted off the shores of Jurong Island, our newest exhibit was unveiled by our guest of honour, Ms Ho Ching, to a rapturous applause from donors, invited guests, LKCNHMembers and volunteers!



The preservation of Jubi was a colossal task and things would not have been smooth sailing without the help of the National Environment Agency, Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore, and staff of the Tuas Marine Transfer Station, who have chipped in much time and effort! Temasek Holdings, Mandai Safari Park Holdings, and Wildlife Reserves Singapore were crucial in helping us achieve our fundraising target, which helped us to present not only a great exhibit, but also comprehensive scientific and educational programmes.


We would like to express our thanks and appreciation to our guest of honour, Ms. Ho Ching (Chief Executive Officer, Temasek Holdings), as well as Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan (Minister for Foreign Affairs), Ambassador-At-Large Prof. Tommy Koh, Mr. S Dhanabalan (Chairman, Mandai Safari Park Holdings), Ms. Kay Kwok (NUS Board of Trustees), Mr. Ng Wai King (NUS Board of Trustees), Prof. Tan Chorh Chuan (President, NUS) and Prof. Shen Zuowei (Dean, Faculty of Science, NUS) for gracing the event.

Special thanks are due as well to ACRES, who brought the whale carcass to our attention, as well as the many people who have helped us one way or another on the journey to make the whale exhibit possible. Thank you!

Book Review: Of Whales and Dinosaurs



Author: Kevin Y.L. Tan
Published by the National University of Singapore Press. 2015. 265 pp. Many pictures,
mostly vintage. Website:

Natural history is the study of the diversity of life on earth. How many millions of different species are there? How did they originate? How do they live, compete and reproduce their kind? How are they related to each other and to humans? To study the diversity of life, specimens are collected for detailed examination and such specimens are preserved in natural history museums where they also serve as records of what plants and animals used to be found, when and where. The specimens are studied gain
and again as new methodologies are developed and new questions arise. For example, it has become possible to extract DNA from long dead specimens to obtain information that was previously thought impossible to obtain. In many cases it has been found impossible to go back to the same habitats for new specimens,
for the habitats themselves are gone. For this reason, the specimens are irreplaceable.

Singapore’s new Natural History Museum is set become a major tourist attraction in Singapore, with its focus on the diversity of life in tropical Asia. The museum itself has had a very turbulent history and its name has changed many times. It began in 1823 with the inception of the Singapore Institution by Stamford Raffles, the founder of modern Singapore, to serve as an educational institution and to house a great library and museum. The collections were built up by the efforts of many generations of natural history scientists, as well as by donations from private collectors. Valuable specimens were also gifted by the Johore royal family.

The Japanese invasion in 1942 caused great anxiety for the curators of the Raffles Museum as well as the Singapore Botanic Gardens. By then the Museum and the Botanic Gardens had become world-famous centres for tropical research, holding collections of outstanding scientific importance. When the British vacated Kuala Lumpur to regroup in Singapore in the face of the advancing Japanese forces, the
Forest Research Institute in the vicinity of Kuala Lumpur was looted. The scientific collections and records, of no value to the looters, were scattered and damaged by water gushing from the pipes that could not be turned off because all the metal fittings had been stripped off. There was reason to fear a similar fate for the Raffles Museum and Botanic Gardens Singapore. However, E.J.H. Corner of the Singapore Botanic Gardens took matters into his own hands, going straight to the victorious Japanese military high command with an appeal for protection for the scientific collection. The Japanese responded favourably and the Raffles Museum and Singapore Botanic Gardens, with most of their British and local staff, came through the war almost unscathed. Corner had to bear the stigma of being a ‘collaborator’ for the rest of his life.

The worst was to come, not from any wartime enemy, but because the leaders of newly independent Singapore saw no political need or economic justification for a natural history museum. In 1960 the Raffles Museum was renamed the National Museum and directed to concentrate on culture, anthropology and the arts. The massive zoological collections were crated up and for almost 30 years, the crates
were moved from place to place as nobody had space for them. The iconic whale skeleton of the old Raffles Museum was given to Malaysia and it looked as if the rest of the collection would be lost. It was left to a handful of dedicated people to keep a watchful eye over the crates and to keep alive the hope that the museum would somehow be resurrected. Then in 1987, the collection was given a home by the National University of Singapore at Kent Ridge. In 1998 the collection became the Raffles Museum for Biodiversity Research and Peter Ng was appointed its Director.

In late 2005 Peter Ng and several staff of the Museum were sent to the US on a sponsored study tour of museums, to see how American museums were run. According to Ng, “Initially, I was rather irritated because I always imagined
that it should have been a simple case of the Government providing the funds and us putting up a good museum.” This was the British and European model. In America, museums are mostly funded by the public in the form of endowments and can be managed with consistent long-term scientific and educational objectives. At the end of the tour Ng was convinced that the American model was what was needed in
Singapore. He also concluded that successful natural history museums have three things in common: (a) good corporate governance (b) a good endowment plan and (c) dinosaurs.

By 2009, as Singapore became rich and confident, people who remembered the Raffles
Museum of their school days began to ask for the museum to be restored. The tide of public opinion was shifting and what was expected was not just a restoration but a massive upgrade. But where would the money come from? At this stage a group of anonymous donors offered $10 million. However it would cost $25 – $30 million
to put up a respectable building, assuming that the land would be free. The President of the University agreed to provide the land if the money for the building could be raised within 6 months. It was a really tough struggle to raise the next one million. Then the Lee Foundation stepped in and offered $25 million. The museum was rebranded as the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum after its main benefactor. The building was begun in 2013 and completed in early 2015.

But it lacked a dinosaur! The last part of the book describes how the museum managed to secure not one, but three magnificent dinosaurs. The whale remains in Malaysia, in a museum in Labuan, but who knows? It may one day be
gifted back to Singapore.

Research Visitors to the Museum (January 2016)

Happy New Year 2016 to all! On our first week of work for 2016, we already have some research visitors eager to conduct their studies on our collection and to collaborate with our experts. This augurs well for the rest of the year and we are counting on a productive time and a bountiful harvest of research output.

First we have Messrs. Pun Yeesin and Somsak Buatip, both of whom are Science Officers from the Faculty of Science & Technology, Prince of Songkla University, in Pattani, Thailand. They have come to learn more about the taxonomy and curation of freshwater crustaceans, molluscs, and fishes from our curators.

Next we have with us a long-time friend and collaborator, PD Dr. Christoph Scubart, lecturer at the Institut für Zoologie, Universität Regensburg, in Regensburg, Germany. Dr Schubart is here for a quick visit to work with Prof. Peter Ng on the revision of the systematics of the sesarmid crab genus Chiromantes and other related taxa.

Glad to have you here folks!

Documenting Nature Workshop


Would you like to be inspired by nature? Or be a naturalist for a day? If so, join us for our Documenting Nature Workshop, fully sponsored by Mitsubishi Singapore!

This three hour workshop will begin with a gallery tour focused on Singapore’s biodiversity, pioneer naturalists in Singapore, as well as the vast array of techniques used by naturalists to document nature.

During the hands-on portion, participants will have a chance to try out some of these techniques! These include activities such as writing in a nature journal, making a scientific drawing, and creating a ‘gyotaku’ print on a reusable bag, which can be brought home!

Date: 10am-1pm on 21st November

Minimum age: 9 years

Adults are welcome too!

To register for this fully sponsored programme, please email us at with the full name of participants, their ages, and contact number. Limited spots available!

Registration closes 11th November 2015.

A Roadkill Record of a Hairy-Nosed Otter from Selangor, Peninsular Malaysia

Dr Tan Heok Hui from the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum documented a roadkill of a hairy-nosed otter (Lutra sumatrana)

Unlike some of the more commonly encountered species of otters, the hairy-nosed otter is an elusive and rarely encountered animal throughout its native range in Southeast Asia.

The dead otter was a female 1.2m in length and its location was less than four meters away from the nearest water source, a black water creek running parallel to the road. the dampness of its coat of fur probably suggests that the otter met its end right after it left the creek and onto the road.

This record was recently published in the IUCN/SCC Otter Specialist Group Bulletin and you can read more about the article here!

Actaea grimaldii: A Crab of Royal Status

Actaea grimaldii

This heavily ornamented yet vibrantly coloured crab was recently described by Professor Peter Ng, the head of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, together with Professor Phillipe Bouchet from the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle.

Actaea grimaldii, as it is now named, is named in honour of the Prince of Monaco, His Serene Highness Albert II, and the red and white colour pattern of the new species also alludes to the colours associated with the armorial of the Grimaldi family.

Colourful as it is, the bright colours that adorn the crab help ‘advertise’ for the crab, not for a partner, but instead, something much more sinister. Belonging to the family Xanthidae, they possess a toxin similar to tetrodotoxin found in pufferfish, the core and only ingredient for the Japanese delicacy ‘Fugu’. These toxins are not only highly toxic, they are also heat-resistant and cannot be destroyed by cooking!

Two specimens courtesy of Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle are now deposited in the museum and are part of the Zoological Reference Collection for research and education.

Here’s a news coverage in France about the description of this new species: [In French]

Job Opportunities: Museum Officer & Scientific Manager


The Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) of the National University of Singapore invites applications for the Museum Officer position. The successful candidate must be highly motivated and passionate about specimen-based research on Southeast Asian biodiversity and educating NUS students about the biodiversity of Singapore and the region. As such, we are looking for a responsible and reliable good communicator who is a multi-tasker and team player. Salary and benefits are commensurate with qualifications and experience.


Duties and Responsibilities

  1. The successful candidate will develop an internationally competitive research programme on Southeast Asian biodiversity and will be responsible for the curation and development of a section of the museum’s collection.
  2. The successful candidate will also be responsible for developing and teaching one university-level module on biodiversity as well as helping co-teaching another module when necessary.
  3. Perform service for the museum, which includes outreach, research management, consultancies, etc.



  1. PhD degree and expertise in specimen-based taxonomic or systematic research
  2. Preferred areas of specialization are marine or terrestrial invertebrates (including insects)
  3. Singapore citizenship or Singapore permanent residency (PR) preferred
  4. Strong English writing and verbal skills
  5. Documented ability to multi-task and work well in a team

Desirable skills:

  1. Experience in applied biodiversity research (e.g., consultancies), conference or workshop organization, museum curation, journal editing, research management or administration
  2. Track record in specimen digitization, digital taxonomy, and/or collection data-basing
  3. Singapore class 3 driving licence


Documentation Required For Museum Officer

Candidates are required to email the following: (1) cover letter; (2) personal particulars form; (3) up-to-date curriculum vitae, (4) research statement (2 pages), (5) teaching statement (2 pages), (6) names and contacts of three referees, and (7) completed NUS Personal Data Consent for Job Applicants to the contact person below.

Miss Kho Zi Yi

Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

National University of Singapore

Deadline for Application of Museum Officer

The closing date for applications is 13 November 2015. Only shortlisted candidates will be contacted to be interviewed.


Duties & Responsibilities


  • Curation and development of the collection of LKCNHM in an area with high curatorial and research needs (e.g., marine invertebrates, terrestrial arthropods).
  • Supervision of the introduction of new curation activities such as a consolidated loan system, new preservation techniques, sub-sampling of specimens for cryo-preservation, data-basing, and specimen digitization
  • Assistance with consultancies, collection acquisitions, research management, and answering research questions by the public

(Please state Qualification, Years of Experience, Knowledge & Skills required.)

  • MSc or PhD in specimen-based biodiversity research or curation of natural history collections
  • Taxon-specific expertise relevant to collection section with high curatorial and research needs (e.g., marine invertebrates, terrestrial arthropods).
  • Singapore citizenship or Singapore permanent residency (PR) preferred
  • Strong English writing and verbal skills
  • Documented ability to multi-task and work well in a team

Desirable skills:

  • Experience with supervising a team working on biodiversity specimens
  • Experience in data-basing, specimen digitization, sampling of tissues for DNA extraction from biodiversity specimens
  • Potential to become an internationally recognized expert for a taxon that is species-rich in Singapore/ Southeast Asia
  • Singapore class 3 driving licence

For more information and to apply for the Scientific Manager position, visit the Career@NUS page.


‘Spider ambassador’ out to nurture nature lovers

Spider Ambassador out to nurture nature lovers ST 21092015

Ex-envoy donating massive collection to museum, writing book on local spiders

Mr Joseph Koh’s home contains a creepy-crawly secret – a collection of 12,000 spider specimens, possibly the largest of its kind in South-east Asia.

Meet Singapore’s very own “Spider-Man”. A former career diplomat who last served as Singapore’s High Commissioner to Brunei Darussalam for six years before retiring in 2012, Mr Koh is a spider expert who has described in journals more than half a dozen spider species that are new to science.

The 66-year-old has been interested in them ever since he was a child. “My father gave me a lot of natural history books,” he said.

“Later on, he also introduced me to macro-photography. This kickstarted what was to be my lifelong hobby, and I have been collecting and photographing spiders since I was an A-level student.”

He is helped by his wife, Mrs Peifen Koh, also 66, who regularly joins him on his spider-collecting field trips, even to the forests of Brunei while he was working there.

Her job was to hit the leaves of a bush or plant with a stick and catch any spiders that fell out by holding an upturned umbrella underneath. However, Mr Koh insists that his wife’s involvement was not out of a love of spiders.

“Once, we were talking to a Bruneian prince about my spider-collecting trips and he was very surprised to learn that my wife often goes along on those trips with me. He asked Peifen if she loves spiders as much as I do, to which she promptly replied, ‘No, Your Highness, I do not love spiders; I love my husband.’ ”

After four decades of gathering spiders in the forests of South-east Asia, Mr Koh is devoting his time to projects to teach future generations of Singaporeans more about appreciating the natural environment.

He has pledged to donate his collection of 12,000 specimens to the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum. But work must first be done to identify, sort and label the specimens before they can be transferred to the museum in stages.

“I have sorted only about 30 per cent of my collection,” he said.

“Identifying spiders is hard work and takes a lot of time, so I would be happy if I can manage to successfully identify one spider a day.

“This is not a job I can finish in my lifetime.”

Mr Koh has been actively working with young people who have a passion in arachnology, or the study of spiders, to pass on his knowledge and skills.

“It’s more than just about grooming young people to help look after my spider specimens,” he said.

“More importantly, I can help foster their love for nature and they can, in turn, inspire others or help make a difference to Singapore.”

Mr Koh is also working on a new book about the different spider species found on the Republic’s shores, of which he estimates there are 800.

This book, which will be his third, follows a similar volume on Brunei’s spiders, published two years ago.

“I had originally wanted to retire, but the National Parks Board requested that I write this new book, and gave me the perfect reason to do so: Since I had already written a comprehensive book about Brunei’s spiders, why not work on one for Singapore?”

But completing the book might take a while. Mr Koh said that he is still “on Page 1” due to his busy schedule.

One of the things that has been keeping his schedule packed is his involvement in the Friends of Ubin Network, a discussion group involving nature lovers and government officials on how to best preserve and enhance Pulau Ubin’s natural environment.

“In studying spiders in Singapore over the last 40 years, I have never ceased to be amazed by the many unusual and uncommon species on Ubin,” Mr Koh said. “Something can be done not just to preserve and enhance Ubin’s natural heritage, but also to enrich the biodiversity education of our children.

“I don’t really have time to enjoy my retirement; I’m busier than before. But knowing that I can help younger Singaporeans and future generations better appreciate and love nature is what drives me.”

Copyright to The Straits Times

Job Opportunity: Part Time Ushers/Helpers (NUS Students)

Keen to know more about natural history? Come join us at Singapore’s only natural history museum!

We are looking for Ushers/Helpers at the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum to assist in Front-of-House duties.

We are seeking dynamic undergraduates with strong interpersonal and communication skills to provide quality customer service. You can expect challenges and learning opportunities. Training will be provided.

Job Requirements:

  • Dynamic individuals with strong interpersonal and communication skills
  • Must be able to commit 2 weekdays and 1 weekend day every week, and working hours are between 9.30 am to 7.00 pm

If you think you are the person we are looking for, do complete the form here.

Do feel free to contact us at if you have any queries. We look forward to hearing from you!


Straits Times 2015-08-14 Living Treasures Under the Sea (CMBS) (1)

Straits Times 2015-08-14 Living Treasures Under the Sea (CMBS) (2)

17 species of invertebrates found in northern coast, and researchers expect to find more

Audrey Tan

Coral reefs hugging Singapore’s southern coast are home to a great diversity of marine life, but they are not the only undersea palaces here.

New research has uncovered a living treasure trove in lesser-known marine habitats.

Seventeen species of invertebrates (animals without backbones) new to science have been discovered in Singapore’s northern shores – and researchers are expecting to find more.

“Singapore is one of the busiest ports in the world, yet we are still able to find new species, and a diversity of new species, in our waters,” said Dr Lena Chan, director of the National Parks Board (NParks) National Biodiversity Centre.

“The great species diversity can be attributed to the varied ecosystems existing in Singapore, which are inter-linked, since some animals inhabit different ecosystems at their various life stages.”

The new finds include a sea cucumber less than 2cm long, a 4cm polychaete (worm), and a 2mm gastropod (snail).

The discoveries are part of Singapore’s first Comprehensive Marine Biodiversity Survey led by NParks. It roped in researchers from the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Tropical Marine Science Institute (TMSI) and the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum and aimed, for the first time, to get a clear picture of sea life here.

As part of the survey, NParks and NUS organised a three-week workshop on Pulau Ubin in late 2012 to study the marine life of the Johor Strait. There, the shores are characterised by mangroves, mudflats and sandy shores, largely due to sheltered conditions and the influx of sediment-laden freshwater from rivers into the Johor Strait.

Thirty-one sites were surveyed, and some 12,000 specimens were collected. These are being kept at TMSI and the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum and many are still being processed.

TMSI senior research fellow Tan Koh Siang said that new nematodes (roundworms) were among the more exciting finds as there has been little research on Singapore’s marine meiofauna – complex multi-cellular animals generally less than 1mm in size.

“Because meiofauna have high turnover rates, they may act as good sentinels of environmental change, and we are keen to pursue this further,” he said.

Unlike the more open waters of the Singapore Strait in the south, the marine environment up north is comparatively sheltered. The 50km-long Johor Strait separates Singapore from Malaysia, and is only 2km wide at its broadest. Down south, Singapore is separated from Batam by 15km of water, and experiences significant water exchanges.

Another difference between the two marine environments is salinity. The Johor Strait receives freshwater from rivers in Johor, whereas the Singapore Strait is saltier.

“Some organisms, such as kinds of sponges, snails and fish, have flexible physiologies and there are certainly species that can be found in both the Johor and Singapore straits,” he noted. “But it is clear that the composition of species, taken in total, is different in the Johor and Singapore strait.”

For example, while coral reefs thrive in southern waters, they do not seem to do as well in the north due to the fluctuating salinities and heavier sedimentation there. Corals need sunlight to thrive but sediment suspended in the water column blocks the light.

The sedimentation has also led to deposits on Singapore’s coast, forming the mudflats and sandflats characteristic of the northern shores.

Researchers found many different types of polychaetes in the mudflats, and a variety of gastropods and molluscs in mangroves, said Ms Linda Goh, NParks’ deputy director of the biodiversity information and policy division at the National Biodiversity Centre.

“The mudflats and mangroves are important habitats for birds, which feed on these organisms,” she said.

But species recognition is only the first step in understanding more about our marine habitats, Dr Tan added. Delving into the ecology, diet, reproduction, interactions with other species, larval dispersal and settlement is the next step, he explained.

“Despite being small and constantly disturbed by coastal development, Singapore still has numerous small pockets of different marine habitats that are used by different species,” he said. “It is important that we recognise and define these habitats in detail, so we can manage and conserve them properly.”

Copyrighted to Straits Times