A tribute to Mr. S.R. Nathan—a patron we will remember

We extend our deepest condolences to the family of our former President, Mr. S.R. Nathan, who was an important benefactor to NUS and the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM). We remember him fondly as a champion for Singapore’s natural environment and education, and his crucial role in supporting the museum’s transformation to what it is today. He was also a patron to the museum’s tome, Singapore Biodiversity: An Encyclopedia of the Natural Environment and Sustainable Development, and helped kick start the fund raising effort to set up the Leo Tan Professorship in Biodiversity for the museum to honour Professor Leo Tan.

Head of LKCNHM, Prof Peter Ng penned the following tribute to the late Mr. S.R. Nathan:

He was just a man. Like all of us. But what a man he was. A people’s president in his tenure… not just in name, but in deeds, and most importantly, in heart. A soft-spoken man with a sage’s temperament and a resolve of steel. A man who instinctively knew what was right or wrong, and lived by these basic principles… even when the world he lived in rarely cared. He was a man who made any man or woman proud to be a Singaporean. And we were proud he was our President.

NUS and the Lee Kong Chian Natural History owe him a debt we cannot repay. As our patron, he shared his wisdom whenever we needed it. Encouraged and helped us to reach heights we thought were impossible. And when we succeeded in spite of everything, he reminded us that success was not an endgame. He counseled that it must be tempered with humility—that we who have succeeded must help those who have not, have less, or have a harder time. That we must endeavour and continue to engage Singaporeans. All Singaporeans.

He will be missed. He is already missed. Thank you sir and rest well. We will remember.

LKCNHM Ground Breaking

LKCNHM Ground Breaking ceremony on 11 Jan 2013. Mr. S.R. Nathan is seated second from left.

Visit from old friends: the Orchards

We begin this month with another crustacean themed post — a report on the visit of Max and Beverly Orchard on their first visit to our new building!

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The Orchards during their recent visit. Photo by Tan Heok Hui.

Max was the Chief Ranger of Christmas Island National Park prior to retirement, and author of ‘Crabs of Christmas Island‘. Given his fondness of crabs, it was only natural that he and Prof. Peter Ng forged a strong collaboration. The Orchards have been a focal part of the Museum’s expeditions to Christmas and Cocos (Keeling) Islands from 2010 to 2012, culminating in a supplement in the Raffles Bulletin of Zoology highlighting the Biodiversity and Management Challenges of both islands. It yielded many new discoveries of crustacean species both on land and out at sea. See more examples from our old blog here.

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The Christmas Island/Cocos Keeling 2012 Team. From left: J.C. Mendoza, Tan Siong Kiat, Naruse Tohru, Joelle Lai, Tan Heok Hui, Peter Ng, Leo Tan, Fujita Yoshihisa with Christmas Islands Parks Officer, Max Orchard (third from right).

Amongst the discoveries in the anchialine caves on Christmas Island, were two new species, named Orcovita orchardorum  and Orcovita hicksi. These two crabs were the first record Orcovita in the Indian Ocean and Australia.

It was a good afternoon of catching up, and planning future research trips to Christmas Island. We miss Christmas Island very much, and hope to be back soon!

Orcovita orchardorum was named in honour of the Orchards who have been dedicated their lives spearheading conservation initiatives to safeguard the island’s unique biodiversity.

red crab Max orchard

Christmas Island’s world famous red crabs (Gecarcoidea natalis). Photo by Max Orchard.

Job Opportunity: Scientific Manager

We are looking for a Scientific Manager to join the Outreach and Education Unit (OEU).

 Description 

  1. Actively sourcing and securing customers and business for the outreach and educational programmes of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM).
  2. Actively sourcing and securing sponsorships from external organisations for the outreach and educational programmes of LKCNHM.
  3. Manage and lead the Outreach and Education Unit (OEU) to coordinate and conduct gallery tours, workshops, guided nature walks and other education and outreach programmes
  4. Manage and handle enquiries regarding the OEU
  5. Working with senior management to develop new and feasible programmes for the LKCNHM
  6. Manage and conduct existing and new education programmes
  7. Work closely with the LKCNHM Front-of-House to handle guided gallery tours
  8. Manage educational webpages on museum’s website and other advertisements on the outreach and educational programmes of LKCNHM
  9. Recruit and conduct training for volunteers and guides whenever necessary
  10. May involve participation in research work and field trips/expeditions

 

Qualifications 

  1. Preferred Master’s degree in Science from a recognised university, majoring in Biology, Zoology, Botany or equivalent.
  2. Minimum 5 years of experience as an educator (relevant experience in teaching, conducting workshops and guiding field trips), with proven leadership experience.
  3. Good knowledge of biology, nature and Singapore and Southeast Asian biodiversity.
  4. Experience in a museum or public attraction, business development, public relations and marketing experience will be an asset. Must be able to work on weekends (Saturdays and Sundays), public holidays and irregular hours as and when required.
  5. Able to work independently, possess good problem solving skills, resourceful, and crisis management skills
  6. Excellent interpersonal skills, even temperament, ability to lead and supervise effectively.
  7. Possesses ability to effectively and professionally communicate at all levels, both verbal and written wise.
  8. Demonstrated strong leadership, organizational and management skills.
  9. Demonstrated ability to handle fast paced environment with many unpredictable developments and rapid changes.

 

Job: Executive and Professional

Schedule:  Full-time – Fixed Term (Contract)

 

Application will end on 13th July 2016. Interviews will be held from end July.

Only shortlisted candidates will be notified.
To apply, go to:  https://nuscareers.taleo.net/careersection/jobdetail.ftl?job=003L9&lang=en

A Crabby Acquisition

Here at the museum, most of our specimens are collected from the research field, received through donations from other museums, or via reports of dead animals by the public.

In some instances, we also collect specimens through more ‘conventional’ means — the market! In fact, we often make it a point to visit local markets in our various field sites across Southeast Asia, as you never know what interesting critter will pop up. After all, the Sulawesi Coelacanth (Latimeria menadoensis), was discovered by Dr. Mark Erdmann in a Manado fish market while on his honeymoon!

Recently, Prof Peter Ng, LKCNHM head, collected an interesting specimen through similar means. He was having dinner at Turf City one evening when he came across an interesting live crab in one of the aquariums, and promptly bought the crab from the seafood joint. Saved from a certain fate of ending up on a dinner plate, the specimen was instead destined for the collection shelves at the museum.

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Top, bottom and close up views of the Golden King Crab. Photo by Tan Heok Hui.

This crab was later identified as a Golden King Crab (Lithodes aequispinus). According to Prof Ng, adults of this species can be as large, if not larger than their more famous counterparts, the Alaskan King Crab (Paralithodes camtschaticus).

Even though it looks crab-like, it is not a ‘true’ crab but actually related to hermit crabs. If you are confused, count the number of legs seen in this crab, and compare it with the mangrove mud crab, Scylla spp.  :)

The crab’s origins were even more of a surprise as it was said to be from Korea, and if so, may be the first record of the species there.

Golden king crabs are not only found in East Asian waters which includes countries like South Korea, but can also be found in the Northern Pacific Ocean ranging from British Columbia in Canada all the way to Japan.

The crab is now awaiting final preparations at our laboratory before it is added to our wet collections along with other crustacean specimens. It will be invaluable as a future research specimen for comparative work and DNA studies.

The next time you visit a market, keep your eyes peeled out for interesting and unusual animals — they may be right under your nose!

Scientist Feature: The Malaysian Cave Rat Mystery

Ms Islahuda Hani Sahak & Mr Mohammad Amin Abdul Aziz

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Husband and wife team during their visit to LKCNHM. Photo by Chia Han Shen.

What do rats and mice have in common with guinea pigs and hamsters?

They belong to a group of animals known as rodents. Rodents contain some of the biggest families within the animal kingdom.

In this edition we feature PhD candidate from the University of Malaya (UM), Ms Islahuda Hani Sahak, who is working to identify rodent skulls in Malaysian caves. She hails from the Department of Geology, Faculty of Science at UM.

Assisting her in this trip is Mr Mohammad Amin Abdul Aziz, who is her husband, and also a trained geologist. For this research trip, the goal is to investigate differences between collected skulls to aid in species recognition.

This study is the first comprehensive survey in Malaysia of how the Muridae fossil group plays an important ecological role in the Quarternary geological time period.

Understanding the paleo-environment

Their visit to Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) in April 2016 involved comparisons between full-bodied specimens found in our collection and Ms Islahuda’s rodent skull fragments.

This is a bonus as Ms Islahuda often only has dentition to go by, as it is rare to get a complete skull of fossilised rodents with their teeth intact. Differences are often minute as there are many similarities in morphology (form).

They are now one step closer to determining the identities of their subjects. Ms Islahuda managed to narrow it down to four confirmed genera: Niviventer, Rattus, Maxomys and Chiropodomys. On an even better note, she has established one of the species as the Indomalayan pencil-tailed tree mouse (Chiropodomys glirodes).

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Often Ms Islahuda only has dentition to work with such as this isolated tooth sample. Photo by Ms Islahuda.

There are many aspects that both Mr Aziz and Ms Islahuda find interesting about rodents. For example, the skulls of rodents can be used to determine their age and even their diet, which gives insights to how each species differs and how adaptable they can be.

Ms Islahuda explains that geologists try to reconstruct the paleo-environment to get a glimpse of what life was like millions of years ago. Clues such as fossilised remains of animals found in river sediments often indicate what living conditions were like millions of years ago. Rodents are the perfect study subjects as they do not migrate and live in specialised regions.

Raising the flag for environmental conservation

Their reasons for conducting this research are based on a conservation mantra.

They hope to raise awareness of cave fossil conservation by creating an environmental value for cave ecosystems to protect them from threats such as the construction of temples and collection of bat guano or poop for plant fertiliser.

They attempt to educate people in appreciating this often-misunderstood group of animals. Pest such as brown rats and house mice are only a tiny minority within rodents which cause harm to humans. On the other hand, hundreds of other species play important roles in their ecosystems around the world.

For example, did you know that jungle rats such as the Rajah’s spiny rat – found in our region – help in the seed dispersal of trees which promote the health of the forest? Rodents are also the favourite prey for animals such as snakes and owls!

This was Ms Islahuda’s and Mr Aziz’s first visit to LKCNHM. As part of their investigation they will also head to the natural history museums in Indonesia, Thailand, China and London to seek more answers in solving the identities of their specimens.

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Specimens of Malaysian House rats from LKCNHM. Photo by Ms Islahuda.

LKCNHM is honoured to host researchers and regional experts who contribute to our knowledge and understanding of Southeast Asian biodiversity. These scientists play an integral part in spearheading environmental conservation initiatives that protect native ecosystems.

We wish Ms Islahuda and Mr Aziz success as they continue in their search to determine the mysteries of the elusive rodents of Peninsular Malaysian caves.

NUS OHS’ Night at the Museum – 27 & 28 May 2016

We had our very own “Night at the Museum” at the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) just a week ago! We at LKCNHM were proud to host this event on behalf of NUS’ Office of Housing Services (OHS). We would like to thank the staff at OHS and the families of Kent Vale Faculty Residences for their enthusiastic participation and we hope to continue to play host to these occasions in the future.

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A total of 77 children from the Kent Vale community and 8 OHS staff stayed overnight. Photo by Rajavarman Matchichandran.

The purpose of the event was to invoke a communitarian spirit and build a closer Kent Vale Community of all ages, especially with the aim of engaging the children of Kent Vale Faculty Staff ranging from the ages of 7 and 15. A total of 77 children accompanied by 8 OHS staff members from Kent Vale stayed overnight at the museum as part of this event.

Events at the museum that night kick-started with a guided tour followed by a Treasure Hunt and a Dinosaur Light Show to end the night with a bang! The family breakfast during the following morning was also a great opportunity for parents to get together and mingle.

Treasure Hunt

Kids hard at work during the Treasure Hunt!  Photo by Rajavarman Matchichandran.

Families expressed their gratitude for all the fun they experienced:

“I would like thank you and your team from OHS for the excellent job done. Our kids really enjoyed the event. Thank you for organising this unique event. I am aware that it is a lot of responsibility on you and your team who have worked tirelessly to make sure it is a success.” – Dr Satish, Dept. of Anatomy, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine

“My kids loved it and are asking what the next one will be!” Prof Kumaralingam, Faculty of Law.

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Smiles all around after breakfast and being back together again after a wonderful night at the museum! Photo by Rajavarman Matchichandran.

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OHS Staff group photo! Photo by Rajavarman Matchichandran.

We end this post with a quote from the Director of OHS, Mr Koh Yan Leng:

“As management of Kent Vale Residences, which accommodates our foreign faculty members and their families, we do not just wish to provide them with a place to stay, but a community that allows them to learn, bond and do great things together. As part of this vision, we organise monthly activities/events for our residents that cater to different family profile, singles, couples and family with kids. For the “Night at the Museum”, we are glad to partner with our esteemed LKCNHM to organise this great event for our residents’ children. The programme created by LKCNHM not only create much fun, but at the same time it is educational for them, which left many of them still talking about it after the event. As such, we deeply appreciate the effort put in by both the LKCNHM staff and our OHS colleagues to make this happen for the kids”.

We look forward to hosting future events such as these for our NUS community.

Raffles Bulletin of Zoology 2016 Supplement No. 33 out: Distribution of and conservation priorities for Bornean small carnivores and cats

The second Raffles Bulletin of Zoology supplement from the 1st Borneo Carnivore Symposium (BCS): Road Towards Conservation Action Plans held at Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia in June 2011 is now available. Supplement No. 33: Distribution of and conservation priorities for Bornean small carnivores and cats follows RBZ Supplement No. 28 published in 2013.

RBZ 33

This supplement provides a road map for better protection of Borneo’s cats and small carnivores that are threatened by habitat loss, illegal hunting and fires. Majority of the papers are multi-author works by a team of international researchers lead by the German Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Species Survival Commission.

Fifteen small carnivoran and five wild cat papers present the predicted distribution of these 20 Bornean small carnivorans and cats from the analysis of collaborative field data. This includes rare and threatened species such as the flat-headed cat (Prionailurus planiceps), Hose’s civet (Diplogale hosei), and otter civet (Cynogale bennettii). Additional papers discuss zooarchaeology and carnivoran conservation planning on Borneo by identifying key carnivoran landscapes, research priorities, and conservation interventions.

Dr. Andreas Wilting, scientist at the IZW and lead editor of this supplement sums up the project, “The goal of the BCS was to understand better the distribution and conservation needs of Bornean cats and small carnivores and subsequently, to enable targeted conservation efforts to those carnivores which are most threatened. We achieved this goal through a collaborative effort of the Borneo Carnivore Consortium, a network of more than 60 national and international scientists, conservationists and naturalists working on Borneo.”

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Binturong from Deramakot Forest Reserve, Sabah. Photo by A. Mohamed / IZW, SFD.

 

 

Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum Presents Palaeontology workshops for school students and educators

The Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum is pleased to invite Professor Patricia Rich and Dr Tom Rich to conduct a series of talks and workshops for educators and school students. There are limited places of 40 participants per session.

The details of the workshops are as follows:

1. Educators Workshop – Mammals, where they are from? Their journey through more than 150 million years 

23 June, Thursday, 10am – 4pm (tea included)

(More details here: http://bit.ly/22tvf5A)

2. Students Workshop – The Feisty Polar Dinosaurs and their companions

21 June, Tuesday, 10am – 4pm (tea included)

(More details here: http://bit.ly/1WoBmbj)

Cost of each workshop – $100 per pax (incl. GST)

 

Registration

Download the registration forms here: http://bit.ly/1WU0Cq2

Kindly register by 8 June 2016 by emailing the completed registration form to nhmlearning@nus.edu.sg.

See you all at the workshop!LKCNHM Paleo workshop schools

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.

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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.

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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.

Launch of Dr Seow-Choen’s latest book: A Taxonomic Guide to the Stick Insects of Borneo

Dr Seow Stick Insect

We have a new book launch happening in the month of June!

Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) is proud to present a new book on stick insects of Borneo by Dr Francis Seow-Choen.

Dr Seow-Choen is a well-known local colorectal surgeon and is also a Honorary Research affiliate with us at the museum. He will be launching his latest book “A Taxonomic Guide to the Stick Insects of Borneo” at the Singapore Botanic Gardens Function Hall at the Botany Centre on 1st June 2016 at 12 noon.

The book includes 337 species of stick and leaf insects from Borneo, as well as details the author’s discovery of 15 new genera and 52 new species from the largest tropical island in the world.

The book launch is jointly hosted by the museum and the National Parks Board and books will be available for sale at the launch!

The book is now available at our very own LKCNHM bookshop and Co-Op bookstores at NUS!