Saturday, May 1, 2010

Lazy Lizard's Tales Special Feature: Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research


In commemoration of International Museum Day, which is held in May every year, and to help raise awareness of the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, I will be doing a special feature this month on the Raffles Museum and some of the specimens in its Public Gallery.

The Raffles Museum, tucked away in a corner of the Faculty of Science in the National University of Singapore, is a museum that definitely deserves to be more widely known among the Singaporean population. Many people who pay a visit are surprised to learn about the amazing diversity of life that once inhabited Singapore, and are even more amazed to discover that despite our small size and the loss of much of our natural habitats, Singapore does still possess amazing biodiversity.


Public outreach is carried out with the help of guided walks and outdoor exhibitions, facilitated by the Raffles Museum Toddycats!, the volunteer arm of the museum.

(Photos by habitatnews)

The museum is is the national coordinator for the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore, the oldest and largest environment programme in Singapore. This annual exercise helps gather data on the threat of marine pollution, while at the same time removing significant amounts of trash from our coastal areas.

(Photo by habitatnews)

Behind the scenes, the museum is involved in a wide range of research on biodiversity both local and regional, from recovering carcasses of local wildlife, to mounting expeditions to survey the biodiversity of other parts of Southeast Asia.

It publishes books and pamphlets on local biodiversity for the general public, as well as 2 of its own peer-reviewed journals, the Raffles Bulletin of Zoology, and Nature in Singapore.

Scientists from around the world visit the museum to examine specimens, in an effort to unravel the secrets of the tangled web of life.

What we have at the Public Gallery is but just a tiny fraction of the museum's vast collection of specimens, many dating back to the time of Sir Stamford Raffles and Alfred Wallace. Due to space constraints, less than 1 percent is currently on display, which honestly is a darn shame, because there is a very real need to educate the public about Singapore's natural heritage, and from my point of view, the current facilities are woefully inadequate. Considering that natural history museums can be considered cultural and national icons, and essential places for invaluable research and education, it is a great disservice that the Raffles Museum should be so overlooked and underappreciated.

A donation drive is currently going on, to raise funds so that the museum may expand into a proper national museum devoted to showcasing the region's biodiversity and natural history. At least 2,000 sq m, or 10 times the current museum's size, will be devoted to exhibition space. Imagine Singapore's very own version of the Natural History Museum in London, recently the focus of a 6-part BBC documentary.

NUS has set aside land for the museum, provided it is able to raise an additional $24 million by June. It is now truly a race against time, and the museum has put up a page where the public can help contribute to the cause.

In my own bid to help raise awareness, for the month of May, I will post a photo of a specimen in the Public Gallery every day. Some of these specimens are quite unique and special in their own way, and where possible, I will try to provide some information on these specimens.

For those of you who are familiar with the museum, which is your favourite specimen, and why? Leave a comment, and maybe you'll get to see a photo of it.