Vision

The Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum strives to be a leader in Southeast Asian biodiversity – in research, education and outreach. We aim:

(1) to nurture public interest in biodiversity and associated environmental issues

(2) to maintain and grow a natural heritage knowledge base that focuses on its huge collection of historical and research specimens

(3) to pursue, encourage, develop, and support biodiversity research in Singapore as well as with partner institutes in Southeast Asia, and internationally

(4) to endeavour to maintain the relevance of biodiversity and environmental issues in the lives of present and future generations of Singaporeans

 

Our goals are:

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(1) The strengthening, growth and evolution of the research programme 

As much as the museum maintains its focus as a specimen-based biodiversity research institute with a strong emphasis on taxonomy, systematics and conservation; it will continue to grow new areas and use novel technologies like those associated with genetics, bioinformatics and imaging. The research collection, while it maintains its Singaporean-Malayan strength, will take on an increasingly Southeast Asian perspective to be a useful museum for comparative biodiversity. This is necessary, as modern science cannot be constrained in national “silos”. As such, the research collection will be enlarged and enhanced, with expanded regional collaborations and expeditions, more broad-based research studies, intensive studies of groups for which the museum has resident expertise, increased digitisation of resources, cryopreservation of key material etc.

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(2) Increased curriculum relevance and educational engagement with primary, secondary and tertiary students: 

Increased curriculum relevance and educational engagement with primary, secondary and tertiary students. This is a key consideration as the museum is part of the Faculty of Science and the university. A museum that focuses only on research and specimens is neither rational nor sustainable. Young people need to be engaged and trained, so there is a pool of capable talent that not only knows about the needs of sustainable development and biodiversity, but also able to serve the cause of conservation, and service national and regional manpower requirements.

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(3) Increased engagement with the public:

Increased engagement with the public. This is an important aspect as the museum must not be an ivory tower. As a “people’s museum” – it not only serves the public’s needs and interests, it should also enthuse and educate them of new developments and challenges, as well as raise the level of environmental awareness. At the end of the day, the people of Singapore are major stakeholders in a heritage centre like ours.

Our History

What is today the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) has a long and somewhat convoluted history. Even today, we have long debates on when it was actually born! Some insist it is very old – going back to 1823, when the founder of modern Singapore, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, established the Singapore Institution. Others note that the idea for a museum was first tabled in 1849, when the Singapore Library proposed this after receiving a special gift of coins from the Temenggong Ibrahim of Johore. Many comment that since Singapore celebrated the centenary of the National Museum in 1987, it must have been founded in 1887. Yet others look at official papers which first mentioned funding for “Raffles Library and Museum” in 1874, making this name official. The then Legislative Council for the island approved the “Raffles Societies Ordinance” in 1878, thereby formally making the entity legal.

Regardless of the date one chooses, the Raffles Museum and its present incarnations, the National Museum of Singapore and the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, are the oldest such institutes in Southeast Asia. For management purposes and point of law, the date of 16 December 1878 is a practical, and perhaps the most objective one for the “start” of the natural history museum.

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LKCNHM inherited the natural history collection from its predecessor, the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research (RMBR) (established in 1998), whose collection was that of the Zoological Reference Collection (ZRC) (formally opened on 31 October 1988), which of course stems from the original Raffles Museum that was renamed the National Museum of Singapore in 1965.

The LKCNHM itself was formally established as an independent academic unit under the Faculty of Sciences (FoS) on 1 April 2014. The rationale for treating the LKCNHM as a new academic unit was because of the nature of its mission – to safeguard the national collection of animals and natural heritage – and that it was built on public donations and sustained by a substantial endowment.

Operationally, the LKCNHM is composed of two major entities. The most important of course, is the plant and animal collections which form the core of its existence and this is research-centric. Then there is the public gallery section, and this also includes the teaching and outreach components of the museum. The building management and administrative office support their activities.

 

Resources

The Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum is staffed by 16 scientists, curators, museum officers and collection personnel as well as 18 outreach officers and administrative staff. The museum, a seven-storey green building providing 8,500 square metres of space, is home to over 560,000 catalogued lots and over a million specimens from throughout the region. The public gallery and lobby is spread over 2500 square metres; with about 20% of the building reserved for mechanical, electrical and other engineering structures necessary to keep the operations going. The bulk of the remaining space is allocated to the collections – which occupy three floors; two for the wet material and one for the dried. Adjacent to the main building is a single-storied teaching laboratory. Surrounding the main building are landscaped areas simulating natural habitats of native plants as well as a Phylogenetic Garden where plants of all types are grown.

A research room with laboratory facilities is available for visiting scientists. Bench fees are not normally levied since much of the work done with international organisations is of a collaborative nature. In addition to standard microscopes, the museum also has a radiography machine and a dedicated photography room. A library contains a choice of literature including reference books, periodicals, journals and about 6,000 articles concerning materials in the LKCNHM. Due to space constraints, a collection of about 10,000 zoological reference books and periodicals, as well as thousands of reprints originally form the Raffles Museum, is presently housed at the Science Library in NUS.

Public Gallery

The main gallery consists of 15 zones, tracing the history of life on earth. Different sections are devoted to the origin of life and all major branches of the Tree of Life. This includes green plants, fungi, molluscs, arthropods, “fish”, amphibians, “reptiles”, birds, and mammals. Other sections are dedicated to demonstrating how terrestrial vertebrates evolved from “fish” and why birds are actually “dinosaurs.” Complementing the main gallery on the mezzanine floor is the heritage zone, where the history of the Raffles Museum and LKCNHM forms the backdrop to the history of natural history in Singapore. This zone houses the so-called Cabinet of Curiosities where visitors can “explore” Singapore’s history of biodiversity work, find out more about the men and women who helped build this, and the biological treasures the museum has accumulated over 137 years of its history. It also has a zone titled “Singapore Today”, which showcases the geology of the island as well as the important conservation work done by national agencies. Positioned at strategic parts of the gallery are important interviews with key researchers from NUS and National Parks Board; as well as audio-visual displays that showcase the grandeur of life on Earth.

LKCNHM is of course home to the three much talked-about diplodocid sauropod skeletons, nicknamed “Prince”, “Apollonia” and “Twinky”. Each of them is about 80% complete, making them a rarity in dinosaur discoveries. Even more amazing is that two of these skeletons come with skulls – a rarity as far as sauropod dinosaurs fossils are concerned! These three skeletons were found between 2007 and 2010 in a quarry in a small town of Ten Sleep in the United States and are believed to be part of a herd or even a family. These dinosaurs are the main attraction of the main gallery, showcasing the diversity and history of life on Earth. As one of the largest animals ever to live on the planet, they are an excellent showpiece to demonstrate extinction events and how life has evolved.

The gallery has been planned not just to expose nature lovers to Singapore and Southeast Asian biodiversity, or to be merely a specimen-based education tool for students of science. The journey through the gallery is also designed to be an experiential one, with the layout as well as kind of historical specimens chosen intended to maximise this outcome. The gallery is complemented by a web-based app that allows visitors to find out more about whichever plant, animal or scientific fact they are most interested in.


Collections and Research

The major collections of the LKCNHM are in two parts, the herbarium and the zoological material.

NUS Herbarium (SINU)

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The NUS Herbarium (SINU) was founded in 1955 as a teaching museum by Professor Gilliland of the then Department of Botany. It was transferred to the RMBR in 1998 and now serves as a documentation of the rich plant resources in Singapore and Southeast Asia with more 33,000 catalogued specimens in its holdings.

 

Zoological Reference Collection (ZRC)

The major part of the LKCNHM is the zoological collection, which is renowned internationally as the “Raffles Collection”. Operationally, we retain the acronym ZRC (Zoological Reference Collection) for the collection as it has now been used by international researchers now for over 30 years and there is no reason to change it.

The ZRC is one of the largest collections of Southeast Asian animals in the region with over 560,000 catalogued lots and over a million specimens in total. It is the national focus point for all zoological material, and has one of the most comprehensive collections of Singapore and Malayan animal specimens in the world. Significant is the 150,000 specimens of Southeast Asian vertebrates, including one of the best bird and freshwater fish collections internationally. The overall zoological collection, however, is actually much larger as there are thousands upon thousands of unsorted bottles and drums from numerous studies, expeditions, surveys and donations from throughout the region. Dozens of major collections from Singapore, Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, East Asia and many parts of the Indo-West Pacific are still being studied and will slowly be catalogued. For example, the four year study of Singapore’s marine biodiversity by NUS and government agencies obtained hundreds of thousands of specimens which are still being sorted. As are hundreds of thousands of invertebrates from the recent Mangrove Insect Project and various university biomonitoring programs. There are also many student collections (from their project work) which need to be catalogued and integrated into the ZRC. The total collections of the museum are thus well over a million in number.

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The collections have grown by some 50% since the late 1990s, the increase being the result of active research work being carried out by the museum’s scientists, regional collaborations and many expeditions over the years. The ZRC also has an active exchange program with museums around the world, from which we have obtained many important species. The museum also regularly receives donations of large collections from private collectors and benefactors; three noteworthy ones being the large collection of cone and cowrie shells from Mr Yap Kim Fatt, a substantial holding of Malayan shells from the late Professor Lim Chuan Fong and Dr Ng Cher Siang, and the most recent being the Fleming Collection of butterlies courtesy of Mr Angus Fleming and Mr T. H. Tan.

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The museum also has a modern cryofacility using liquid nitrogen to store over 12,000 important plant and animal tissue samples as well as modern facilities for molecular work.

Staff of LKCNHM and their colleagues in Department of Biological Sciences as well as several government agencies actively conduct research in conservation biology, ecology, and systematics that covers many terrestrial, freshwater and marine environments. From high mountains to the deep sea. Numerous surveys, expeditions and collaborative work are also conducted in the Asia-Pacific region with colleagues from Asia, Europe, Australia and the Americas. Research strengths resident in the museum include systematics of many aquatic and terrstrial arthropods, molluscs, reptiles, amphibians and fish; as well as conservation of small mammals. More than 90% of the museum’s specimens are used for research by academics, students and scientists from Singapore and the world; generating more than 70 scientific publications every year. Since the mid-1990s, the staff and students of LKCNHM with its many associates have published between 1700-2000 scientific papers! 

Public Education

LKCNHM offers a range of educational workshops and programmes for teachers and students in the area of natural history, conservation and ecology. These workshops and programmes leverage on the museum’s extensive knowledge base in biodiversity research. The approach of these workshops and programmes is interactive and stimulating, with cutting-edge content delivered through engaging hands-on experience.

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The new galleries, together with a dedicated teaching laboratory and garden, are wonderful new resources that will take public education in LKCNHM to the next level. The teaching laboratory can easily host more than a hundred students, and can be customised and/or compartmentalised depending on the need – whether it is laboratory based or for lectures as a seminar room. 

Research Affliates

The museum also leverages on the expertise of international and local colleagues who are not with the museum. These research friends have helped us become stronger as they complement us.

Publication

Since 1998, the museum has been actively publishing papers through its own dedicated organ, The Raffles Bulletin of Zoology (RBZ); as well as many educational books. The RBZ is a leading international, peer-reviewed journal focussing on Southeast Asian biodiversity that is in the Web of Science’s Science Citation Index (Impact Factor for 2013: 0.909) as well as many other indexing systems. It is one of the few such journals in the region, and get hundreds of submissions every year from around the world. The main journal has gone fully electronic since early 2014, expediting publication as well as saving costs. The RBZ also publishes thematic supplements, and although designed to be occasional, the numbers have been slowly increasing over the years.

The RBZ is a continuation of the defunct Bulletin of the Raffles Museum, first published in 1928, and subsequently as the Bulletin of the National Museum. It was resurrected in 1987 as the Raffles Bulletin of Zoology by Professor Dennis Murphy with a generous donation from the then Turf Club, with the numbers continuing from the days of the National Museum. The editorial board boasts an international group of scientists with many distinguished experts in their respective fields of research, including luminaries like E. O. Wilson. In June 2008, a second, online, peer-reviewed journal, Nature in Singapore (NiS), was established, publishing papers on the natural history, biology, conservation, botany, zoology, and ecology of Singapore. NiS also provides an avenue for new sightings/records, rediscoveries of nationally extinct species, and status and distribution records for individual species in Singapore. NiS articles are published on the web as soon as they are ready, and the journal consists of a single volume each year. In addition, the museum publishes the peer-reviewed Raffles Museum Books (RMB) to share information pertaining to the biodiversity of Singapore, Southeast Asia, and the rest of the world. RBZ, NiS, and LKCNHMB (Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum Books) are all Open Access publications freely downloadable from here. The museum believes in having key technical papers free on line for use by the scientific community as far as possible.

LKCNHM also publishes the Private Lives Series of nature books on Singapore’s habitats including the seashores, mangrove forests, freshwater habitats, and tropical rainforests, as well as a book on dragonflies. Nature Guidesheets on the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, Singapore insects, birds, mangrove forests, intertidal habitats, coral reefs, fungi, and nature in urban areas have also been published. These nature books and guidesheets are available at leading Singapore bookshops.

Depending on funding and occasion, the LKCNHM also authors and/or publishes major books. These have included books on the Colugo, seashores and forests; as well as the landmark book “Singapore Biodiversity - An Encyclopedia of the Natural Environment and Sustainable Development” which became a bestseller.

Consultation Services

The research strength of the RMBR has achieved a high regional and international reputation with regards to environmental consultation matters. A number of local and international organisations have sought professional assistance with the museum with regards to environmental impact assessments and management options.

Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum Fellowships

LKCNHM offers a short-term visiting fellow programme which offers research stints of 2–6 weeks in Singapore. This programme endeavours to bring in experts in relevant fields to work with LKCNHM staff and students to further the cause of Southeast Asian biodiversity research. Fellowships are given on a merit basis, dependent on funds and research areas identified. A long-term fellowship programme of 6–12 months is also available but this depends on funding available and projects.

Databases

The specimen catalogues of various floral and faunal groups in the museum have been maintained as handwritten entries in catalogue books. The catalogues are now currently being maintained digitally. Parts of the reptile and amphibian collection is available online and searchable on Herpnet. The two moss databases available online are East Asian and Malesian. The next stage of the LKCNHM will see the type collections digitised to modern standards and a basic databasing of the collections to facilitate their usage to the international community.

Graduate Studies

The graduate studies programme is centred in the Department of Biological Sciences, and on average 15-20 graduate students pursuing MSc and/or PhD degree by research are supervised by staff of the LKCNHM. Past and present students come from Singapore, Malaysia, China, France, Germany, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, U.S. and U.K.

Visitor Information

Both the public and researchers are welcome to the museum. Details on arranging a visit, and how to get to the museum are available here.