Museum's $12m race for dino family

Tan Dawn Wei Straits Times 10 Jul 11;

A night at the museum here, with three real dinosaurs? It's a possibility.

Singapore could be home to these dinosaur fossils if the new natural history museum can raise $12 million by the end of this month.

The offer of such a prized acquisition comes from Dinosauria International, a Wyoming-based fossil company that found the three remains between 2007 and last year in Ten Sleep, a small town in the American state.

There are good reasons for the hefty price tag. The two adults and one baby were found together and could well be a family. They are over 80 per cent complete, a rarity as far as dinosaur discoveries are concerned.

If the funding is secured, the trio will get star billing at the 7,500 sq m museum when it is ready in 2014.

'The idea was always to have a central gallery and put something there that would make people go 'Whoa!'' said Professor Peter Ng, director of the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research.

Raffles Museum has one of the largest collections of South-east Asian animals in the region - 500,000 specimens of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fishes, crustaceans, insects, molluscs and other invertebrates.

Since 1988, its priceless collection has been housed in the National University of Singapore's (NUS) biological sciences department, which inherited it from the National Museum.

Last year, Raffles Museum went on an intensive fund-raising drive that garnered $46 million to build a dedicated natural history museum to publicly showcase more of these specimens.

The dinosaurs would be ideal as the new museum's centrepiece crowd-puller, while also attracting researchers worldwide, Prof Ng said.

The idea of getting dinosaurs for the new museum emerged when a German researcher who became Prof Ng's postgraduate student told him that his cousin digs for dinosaur fossils and sells them.

That got scientists at the Raffles Museum excited. But they knew such fossils would be costly.

Then there was the question of whether American dinosaurs had a place in a museum showcasing Asia's natural heritage.

Such issues were put to the museum's scientific advisory committee, which took a few days to deliberate before coming back with a 'yes'.

'They wanted the museum to tell the story of the history of life and evolution. Dinosaurs are the history of life,' said Prof Ng.

Dinosaur spotters will want to know this: The trio are diplodocid sauropod dinosaurs, among the biggest animals to have trod the earth.

Two of them - nicknamed Apollo and Prince - measure 24m in length while the baby dinosaur, Twinky, is 12m.

To establish that the finds are real, the museum checked with fellow scientists around the world, looked at the scientific paper that had been written about the discoveries, and sent a team to Wyoming.

Dinosaur exhibitions here have so far showcased replicas, not the real thing.

Thailand is the only South-east Asian country that has dinosaurs, found in the north and featured in two dinosaur museums there.

Mr Raimund Albersdoerfer, a partner at Dinosauria International, said he is reserving the three dinosaurs for Singapore, although there are interested foreign buyers, including private collectors.

'Because of the scientific value, we will sell only to major public institutions or museums in order to secure them for scientific research and public accessibility,' Mr Albersdoerfer told The Sunday Times.

The $12 million figure includes the purchase price as well as mounting an accompanying exhibition.

Raffles Museum has approached donors of its building fund and other potential donors. It will also launch a public donation drive on its website,, today.

Government agencies it approached could not help with funds. But Professor Leo Tan, who heads the fund-raising efforts and is director of special projects at the NUS science faculty, is optimistic about raising the required sum.

'I'm quite confident. It's just a question of when. You never think about what-ifs. You have to believe in what you do.'

Natural history museum to get a natural look
Straits Times 10 Jul 11;

It is Singapore's first purpose-built natural history museum, so it has to look natural, naturally.

That is why it will resemble a moss-covered rock - a design by acclaimed Singaporean architect Mok Wei Wei that won its custodians over.

Mr Mok's other projects under his firm, W Architects, have included The Loft Condominium at Nassim Hill, Paterson Edge, and the redevelopment of the National Museum of Singapore.

His proposal was among 20 received in an open tender exercise late last year after the National University of Singapore managed to raise $46 million in building funds through an intensive six-month fund-raising drive.

The new Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, which will house plant and animal exhibits from the current Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, will form part of a cultural hub that includes the University Cultural Centre and Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music when it is completed in 2014.

The current Office of Estate and Development near the Clementi Road end of the campus will make way for the new museum, which was originally slated to be built at the upcoming University Town.

The footprint remains the same: a 7,500 sq m, six-storey green building with 2,500 sq m of gallery space - 10 times the exhibition space now at Raffles Museum in the NUS biological sciences department.

The rest of it goes to housing classrooms, offices, research and storage areas. Construction will start around the middle of next year and take 18 months.

The building fund came largely from the Lee Foundation, which gave $25 million. There were other anonymous multimillion-dollar donations and about $1 million from the public.

Tan Dawn Wei