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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.