Scientist Feature: Double Edition

This week we feature two scientists – Dr Chavalit Vidtahayanon, a fisheries expert from Thailand, and Dr Charles Leh, the deputy director of the Sarawak Museum – who visited our diverse collections last month at the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM).

What do they have in common?

They are catfish specialists who have 40 years of shared experience and valuable expertise between them.                


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Dr Chavalit Vidthayanon on his recent visit to LKCNHM. Photo by Tan Heok Hui.

Dr Chavalit Vidthayanon

Dr Chavalit Vidthayanon is an expert in many biological fields such as ichthyology, malacology, carcinology and palaeontology.

As an ichthyologist (fish scientist) he studies and monitors the diversity of freshwater fish in Southeast Asia.

This fishy fascination began at a young age, followed by tertiary studies in marine science, culminating in his 1993 PhD in fisheries on the taxonomic revision of Pangasiid catfish at the Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology.

Pangasius catfish are medium to large shark catfish that can only be found in India and Southeast Asia. Some species are commercially important food items such as basa and sutchi. These delectable fish products are exported and sold as frozen and fresh fillets worldwide.

Live sutchi

(Pangasinodium hypophthalmus) sutchi catfish from aquarium trade. Photo by Tan Heok Hui.

Basa fish vietnam market

Basa fish being sold in Vinh Long Market, Vietnam. Sourced from Flickr: Basa fish – Vinh Long Market. Photo by Alpha.


Since then he has published four informative papers involving the discovery and naming of new species of catfish, and describing crucial differences amongst catfish families.

Dr Vidthayanon’s first job was as a fisheries technician in the Department of Fisheries in the National Museum of Thailand. His subsequent professional experiences include working with Thailand’s branch of the World Wildlife Fund, the Khorat Fossil Museum and the Mekong River Commission.

With his professional expertise and wealth of accumulated experiences, he is now an independent consultant on river biodiversity within the Indo-Chinese region.

Over the years he has collaborated with the head of LKCNHM, Prof Peter Ng, particularly in carcinology, which is the study of crustaceans. Together they published a 2013 scientific report on the discovery of a new cave dwelling crab species and genus, Thampramon tonvuthi, found only in Thailand.

Since his first visit to the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity and Research in 1997, Dr Vidthayanon has been impressed by the transformation of the museum. He still remembers its humble beginnings as a small public gallery at the Department of Biological Sciences during his initial visit.

He marvels at what it has become today – a full-fledged natural history institution equipped with modern research facilities, a brand new name and regionally-renown scientific reputation. This was his second visit to the museum and accompanied by his wife of 27 years.


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From left to right: Dr Tan Swee Hee from LKCNHM with Dr Charles Leh from the Sarawak Museum. Photo by Tan Heok Hui.

Dr Charles Leh

Dr Charles Leh is a deputy director of Sarawak Museum. Dr Leh, a trained zoologist, has been with the institution for the past 20 years. He holds many important roles in the museum, not merely as deputy director, but also as curator of zoology and co-editor of the Sarawak Museum Journal.

He is known primarily for his 1990 PhD study and his 2012 publications on the eel tailed catfish species, Plotosus canius. It is considered to be the largest member of the Plotosus family in Singapore and is a common inhabitant in coastal waters.

Plotosus lineatus Wikipedia Image

A shoal of striped eel-tailed catfish, (Plotosus lineatus), in Manado, North Sulawesi, Indonesia. Photo by Jens Petersen.

All Plotosus catfish have venomous spines on their fins, an eel-like tail and are characterised by their shoaling behaviour during their juvenile stage. Fish often shoal or bunch together to reduce the risk of predation and improve their chances of survival.

The purpose of Dr Leh’s trip was to obtain ideas for his plans to renovate the Sarawak Museum. In particular, he was here studying the container facilities of the LKCNHM and how we store our specimens using compactors and racks. This was why he came accompanied by his team of architects.

Dr Charles Leh and architects

Dr Charles Leh and his team of architects during their visit to LKCNHM with our beautiful wall mural. Photo by Tan Heok Hui.

We are delighted to have top scientists visit LKCNHM regularly. Dr Vidthayanon and Dr Leh have made valuable contributions to fish conservation within Southeast Asia. Their knowledge has proven helpful in building our regional database and updating vital information on specimens that have been collected over many years.

Visit by Tony Wu, Underwater Photographer & Naturalist

April has been a busy month for us at the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum. We have had many special visitors and exciting happenings such as the repository of the wooden whale sculpture and the donation of a false killer whale jaw from Underwater World Singapore.

One such guest was Mr Tony Wu. Mr Wu is a freelance photo-naturalist who specialises in underwater photography. His assignments have taken him to many exotic locations and wonderfully unexpected encounters with nature. Mr Wu also contributed some excellent photos showcasing various deadly threats that whales face all over the world  to the information panels of our new sperm whale exhibit, Jubilee, which are featured below.

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Featured in this photograph and flanking Mr Wu are his long-time friends, Dr Tan Heok Hui (Operations Officer) and Dr Tan Swee Hee (Facilities Manager) posing against the beautiful backdrop of our wall mural. Mr Wu was guided by both Drs Tan in the gallery, and in his own words, ‘geeked out many times’.

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Besides being an underwater photographer by profession, Mr Wu is an avid traveller who organises trips for visitors to places that are off the beaten track to experience the wonders of the marine world. These include sessions of marine photography and up-close encounters with whales!

For Mr Wu, photography is not just a career but also a purposeful medium in which he hopes that it will convey positive and lasting experiences of oceanic marvels to his audiences.  He hopes that his viewers will gain a deeper appreciation of the world and better realisation of ourselves in the process, just as he himself experienced when he embarked on this path of diving into the deep blue.

More details on his visit to the museum and about himself can be found here:

Lunar New Year Promotion 2016: Return of the Museum Roundtable Red Packet Giveaway

Update: Thank you for your interest in the Museum Roundtable Lunar New Year red packets!

All LKCNHM red packets have been fully redeemed.

Meanwhile, visitors are welcomed to recreate impressions of the red packets with the orangutan in the Biodiversity Gallery, and find out the reason for his expression.

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“Based on the incoming zodiac animal for the New Year, participating Museum Roundtable members would distribute their own uniquely designed red packets to visitors of their museums and galleries during this festive season.

Collect these limited edition red packets while stocks last!*”

The Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum’s exclusive red packet features a primate doing one of the favourite activities of visitors in our gallery with a museum exhibit! Come collect a red packet and do the same before they get snapped up!

LKCNHM Red packet

*Terms and conditions apply.

Make a date with the dinos

The creatures are waiting. Over 2,000 specimens to be exact, ranging from majestic dinosaur fossils to a bird in the collection of famed British naturalist Alfred Wallace, will be on show to the public on April 28 at the new Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum. Chang Ai-Lien takes a look inside, and checks out the book which tells its story.

Early days

The idea of setting up a museum in Singapore goes back to 1823, when Sir Stamford Raffles founded the Singapore Institution. Formally established as the Raffles Library and Museum in 1878, Singapore’s natural history museum began life in Stamford Road in 1887, exhibiting preserved animal specimens from South-east Asia. Over the years, it became known as the Raffles Museum and National Museum – which had collections of natural history, anthropology and art.

In 1972, after it split from the National Museum, it was often referred to as the Raffles Collection or the Raffles Natural History Collection. After it became ensconced in the Department of Zoology at the National University of Singapore, it became known as the Zoological Reference Collection and, from 1998, formed the core of the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research.

Now it has found a permanent home at the new Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, where the displays, such as this one which includes crocodiles, and a Komodo dragon skeleton, are designed to evoke excitement and interest in the diversity of life. Rather than cluttering the displays with text, the researchers behind it created a special app that allows visitors to get details on each exhibit using their smartphones.

Source: Of Whales And Dinosaurs

The whale that got away

In 1892, the museum acquired a 42-foot (12.8m) skeleton of an Indian fin whale which died after being stranded near Malacca. Lack of space at the museum prevented the skeleton from being properly mounted for display, and it remained in storage for the next 15 years. In 1907, the skeleton was finally mounted. Missing bones – a scapula, the “hands”, and several vertebrae and ribs – were modelled out of wood and plaster of paris and the whole skeleton “was suspended by steel ropes from the ceiling”. When unveiled, it was undoubtedly “the most striking exhibit in the Zoological gallery”. The museum now had on display a specimen of the world’s largest creature in its galleries.

In May 1974, after the National Museum gave up its natural history collection to the Science Centre, the whale was taken down, dismantled into three pieces and sent by truck as a gift to the Muzium Negara (National Museum) in Kuala Lumpur.

Source: Of Whales And Dinosaurs

Dino delights

Three dinosaurs will be the highlight of the museum.

Skeletons of the three diplodocid sauropods, some of the biggest creatures to walk on earth some 150 million years ago, were found together at a quarry in Wyoming in the United States, and are more than 80 per cent complete.

Two of them – Apollonia and Prince – were adults measuring 24m and 27m respectively from head to tail, while the baby dinosaur, Twinky, was 12m long. After they were uncovered, the bones were first wrapped in paper towels and encased in a protective plaster and burlap cast. They were then moved to a lab where the casing was removed. Once the bones were exposed, the rock was chipped off, and a strengthening liquid was added to preserve and harden the fossils.

In Singapore, the bones were authenticated by putting them through CT scans. Then the dinosaurs were pieced together again on a custom-built frame, with missing pieces filled in with resin parts made from casts.

Items on display at the new Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum include crocodiles and a Komodo dragon skeleton. — PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES

Singapore Press Holdings Limited

Tickets to see rare dinosaur skeletons go on sale

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THOSE who want to be among the first to see the rare dinosaur skeletons at the upcoming Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum can now book tickets.

Singapore’s first and only dedicated natural history museum will open its doors on April 28, and tickets go on sale in advance from today.

They will not be on sale at the door but only via ticketing agent Sistic.

This is to help with crowd control, as only up to 300 guests are allowed in for each of the six daily sessions at the museum, which is located next to the University Cultural Centre at the National University of Singapore (NUS).

Tickets cost up to $20 for adults and $12 for children aged three to 12. For Singaporeans and permanent residents, tickets cost $15 for adults and $8 for children.

Visitors will be able to see Prince, Apollo and Twinky, the trio of 150 million-year-old diplodocid sauropod dinosaur skeletons that are the stars of the new museum.

Prince and Apollo are adults and Twinky is a baby. They were found together and could well be a family.

Prince is the biggest at 4m tall and 27m long, while Twinky is the smallest at 12m long.

The museum acquired them in 2011 from Dinosauria International, a Wyoming-based fossil company that found the remains between 2007 and 2010 in Ten Sleep, a town in the American state.

The skeletons are more than 80 per cent complete – a rarity as far as dinosaur discoveries go.

In all, visitors will get to see 2,000 specimens, including leopard cats that have undergone taxidermy and a rare 200-year- old tusk of a narwhal, a marine mammal known as the “unicorn of the ocean”.

The opening of the 7,500 sq m museum will bring to fruition more than five years of labour by NUS professors Leo Tan and Peter Ng, who led efforts to build such a facility and helped to raise $46 million for it in 2010.

The building fund came largely from the Lee Foundation, which gave $25 million.

Before 2010, there had long been calls for Singapore to have its own stand-alone natural history museum to showcase its rich natural heritage, especially after animal and plant exhibits from the old National Museum made way for art and ethnographic displays.

At the new natural history museum, a 2,000 sq m space open to the public will house a biodiversity gallery and a heritage gallery.

The main biodiversity gallery, where the dinosaur skeletons are located, takes up the first floor. It is arranged thematically and will have sections on marine cycles, mammals and fungi.

While the museum has a strong South-east Asian focus, the prehistoric era when dinosaurs roamed the earth is not neglected, said museum curator Marcus Chua, 31. “The dinosaurs and model of the dodo in the museum are reminders of extinction.”

Not all of the museum’s exhibits are extinct or dead – there will be live scorpions in the biodiversity gallery’s arthropod section and mudskippers in the fish section.

Visitors can observe animals rarely encountered in the wild in a naturalistic setting, said Mr Chua.

Just above the biodiversity hall is the heritage gallery, which showcases the pioneers of Singapore’s nature scene, such as ornithologist Guy Charles Madoc – a Briton who illicitly completed An Introduction To Malayan Birds while incarcerated at Changi Prison during World War II.

NUS life sciences undergraduate Randolph Quek, 24, cannot wait to see the dinosaur skeletons.

“As an ecology student, I also want to check out the other specimens,” he said.

“Apart from watching documentaries, the museum is a good way to get people aware of the biodiversity we have here.”

What visitors need to know

Opening hours

* 10am to 7pm from Tuesdays to Sundays, and on all public holidays

Standard rates

* Adult: $20

* Child (three to 12 years old): $12

Local resident rates (Singaporeans and PRs)

* Adult: $15

* Child (three to 12 years old), student, senior citizen, full-time national serviceman, person with disabilities: $8

* NUS staff and students: Free. Admission subject to availability, prior booking must be made on a website which will be set up.


* Tickets can be bought up to one month in advance and will be sold only through Sistic at or at authorised counters.

* Tickets will not be sold at the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum.

* Tickets are sold for 11/2-hour sessions, starting from 10am.

Last admission is at 5.30pm.

* Selfie sticks are not allowed in the museum.

The Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum will open its doors on April 28 and tickets go on sale from today via Sistic. Visitors will be able to see Prince, Apollo and Twinky, the trio of 150 million-year-old diplodocid sauropod dinosaur skeletons that are the stars of the new facility.

Singapore Press Holdings Limited


23022015 ZB


李光前自然历史博物馆将于今年4月 28 日,正式向公众敞开大门。


除了恐龙化石,李光前自然历史博物,1 馆将收纳的物品, 绝大部分迁自莱佛士1生物多样性研究博物馆;数量高达50多万件。不过,只有约一成馆藏得以和公众见面,其余的物品均用于研究工作。但无论!是展品数量和展馆面积,均比莱佛士生物多样性研究博物馆多出十倍。

为确保所有标本顺利搬迁,莱佛士生物多样性研究博物馆早在2013 年4月率先关闭,以便工作人员有充裕时间为各类标本“打包”,做搬家准备。正式的搬迁工作从去年8月陆续展开。


新加坡国立大学鱼类分类学讲师陈旭辉( 43岁)是其中一名负责博物馆搬迁的工作人员,他受访时透露,迁馆工程不仅浩大,且好事多磨。

他说: “博物馆收藏的标本主要分为民干湿两种,前者包括鸟类和哺乳动物等实体标本,后者则是存放在酒精中的有机、体。我们原以为可以同时搬迁,但由于工程和技术等无法预期的问题,不得不分开进行,因此过程相当耗时耗力。”

由于馆内珍藏了年代久远的各类动物标本,为确保它们搬入新馆后的品质,工作人员必须先把实体标本冰冻至少两个星期,以除去依附在标本上的寄生虫等“外来物”,同时确保新馆环境不会被它们 “污染” 。冰冻标本的温度在零下21 摄氏度左右,过程中使用特别制作的箱子,方便之后的解冻工作。


陈旭辉说: “动物标本就好像一副艺术品,除了确保毛发体型还原真实状态,最重要的其实是它的眼睛,一定要让它们看起来栩栩如生。我们的同事这次特别进行了修补工作,把毛发和眼睛重新清理丁一遍。”

李光前自然历史博物馆位于新加坡国立大学文化中心旁,楼高六层,耗资4600万元打造。一楼展厅将分为上下两层,有“生物多样性”和“生物遗产”两个对外开放的展馆;二楼至四楼将不开放给公众参观,主要放置用于研究工作的干湿标本, 五六楼则用于行政和其他工作。

据陈旭辉介绍, 由于湿标本装在灌有酒精的标本瓶中, 新馆中的收藏室不但防爆,也设计了特别的沟渠和隔板系统,在酒精外漏时可迅速排出易燃液体。

工作人员目前已进入最后的准备阶段, 所有展品也即将各就各位。陈旭辉说: “这真是一项不简单的工作,现在我们看到旧博物馆中空空的架子和纸箱,非常有满足感。”

©Singapore Press Holdings