Best of our wild blogs: 19 Apr 15

Singapore's natural history museum: opening soon!
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White-bellied Sea-eagle – fishing sequence
Bird Ecology Study Group

Night Walk At Venus Drive (17 Apr 2015)
Beetles@SG BLOG

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Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum now open

Channel NewsAsia 18 Apr 15;

SINGAPORE: The doors of the Republic’s first natural history museum officially opened on Saturday (Apr 18), giving visitors the opportunity to see centuries-old exhibits from a unique collection, most of which has never been seen before.

The Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, the region's first such museum, showcases about 2,000 historic exhibits.

First mooted by Sir Stamford Raffles, the collection of South-east Asian biodiversity began in 1849 at the Raffles Museum. Taking star-billing today is a trio of near-complete fossils of giant diplodocus skeletons – nicknamed Prince, Apollonia and Twinky. A recent acquisition, the rare skeletons are more than 80 per cent complete.

The dinosaurs played host today at a special viewing by a group of 250 invited guests. They included President Tony Tan Keng Yam, Ambassador-At-Large Tommy Koh and experts from museums around the world.

Built at a cost of about S$46 million, the museum was funded with support from the Lee Foundation and private donors.


President Tan hailed the museum as a "ground-up initiative" that brings together Singaporeans from all walks of life, to contribute to a "worthwhile cause".

Said Dr Tan: "The development of this museum is an example of how with commitment, hard work, and the support of the community, Singaporeans can pursue their passions and make a difference to society. The museum will serve to educate many generations of Singaporeans the importance of protecting our heritage and contribute to regional and global biodiversity research."

Also present at Saturday’s special viewing was Mr Eric Alfred, the last curator of the old Raffles Museum which originally housed the previous collection. He recognised a few old 'friends' – a sea turtle, previously on display at the Raffles Museum.

“She was found in Singapore, and they killed her and stuffed her and brought her up. It’s the first record of a leathery turtle in Singapore waters. When you see specimens that you recognise, you sort of feel happy that they are still around,” Mr Alfred said.

In a Facebook post on Saturday afternoon, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean hailed the museum’s collection, adding that there are over 500,000 specimens of flora and fauna on display – many that are over 150 years old from Raffles’ collection.

The museum will be open to the public from Apr 28. Tickets are available from SISTIC.

- CNA/dl

A night at the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum
Dawn Karen Tan, Channel NewsAsia 18 Apr 15;

SINGAPORE: Natural history evokes wonder, and museums evoke curiosity and enchantment - put them together and you can open minds to new worlds. Ahead of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum's opening on Apr 28, Channel NewsAsia's Dawn Tan took a peek into the brand new museum.

The Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum is laid out in about 20 zones spread out over two floors. On the ground level, exhibits tell the evolutionary story of the South East Asian region, including a zone dedicated to creatures that used to fly or crawl through the undergrowth.

The museum houses all types of treasures from the natural world - from the microscopic to the gigantic, and from the oddly bizarre to the stunningly beautiful.

The museum has no windows, because the exhibits can be affected by light or heat. In temperature-controlled glass cabinets, dioramas tell the history behind each precious specimen, some of which no longer exist in Singapore. One example is the cream-coloured giant squirrel, a local species believed extinct in Singapore because it has not been seen in the wild for more than 50 years.

The museum also houses "Cabinets of Curiosity", which holds curios and collectibles from a bygone era, full of taxidermied specimens that look almost alive. The museum also tells the story of how the collection survived the war years after 1942.

A leather-bound replica of a natural history book on birds by Guy Charles Madoc belongs to part of that story. Madoc, a prisoner of war during World War II, wrote the 146-page manuscript while he was interred for five years at Changi Prison.


One of the museum's most significant and valuable exhibits on display is a bird from famed naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace's collection, said museum officer Marcus Chua.

"Singapore's natural history attracted some star naturalists of the time, among whom is Alfred Russel Wallace who's best known as being the co-discoverer of evolution," said Mr Chua. "And he made Singapore one of his main stops in his journey's across the Malay Archipelago. He noted that the hills of Bukit Timah were exceptionally rich in beetles."

"Wallace's collections are very valuable today," added Mr Chua, who pointed out that the museum houses one of the birds from Wallace's collection, a flycatcher.

In the back rooms of the gallery is a treasure trove of over half a million specimens, making it one of the largest collections of South-east Asian animals in the region. In fact, there are too many to all go on display.


It turns out that the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum is not that far removed from London's famed Natural History Museum, as Singapore has all these taxidermied specimens thanks to the British's early preoccupation to collect.

"What many people may not know was that Sir Stamford Raffles was also a very ardent naturalist, he loved animals and plants, he was very curious, and his ideas in 1823 were very important," said the head of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, Professor Peter Ng. "He included the idea of having a natural history museum for the people, what are the treasures of the region, and Singapore."

Those ideas eventually led to the construction of the National Museum on Stamford Road - the original home of Singapore's natural history collection, the Raffles Museum.

"It grew in reputation as a hub for zoological and anthropological studies," said Dr Ng. "The one thing I must say about the English, they were very good hunters. As they went around the region surveying, looking for things they caught all sorts of strange things, brought it back, stuffed it, studied it, reported on it."

Donations, such as a fragile nine-foot long tusk from a narwhal, also make up part of the collection. The 200-year-old tusk - from what is also known as the ''Unicorn of the Ocean'' - was gifted by the Russian government to businessman ''Whampoa'' Hoo Ah Kay, one of Singapore's pioneers of the 1800s.

The horn eventually ended up in the possession of his great-granddaughter, Mdm Hoo Miew Oon.

"As a child I used to run and play around the tusk with my cousins," said Mdm Hoo. "And during the Japanese occupation, my grandfather wrapped the tusk with newspaper and torn clothing. And hid it behind the old fashioned day bed, to prevent the Japanese to take the tusk away or destroy the tusk."

The new museum is self-funded which means every cent for the construction and development had to be sourced from contributions. It has raised to date seed funding of close to S$46 million.

That meant the museum could go ahead with the purchase of the biggest animals to walk the earth: Three diplodocus dinosaur fossils, which will get star billing at the new museum.

Excavated in the arid deserts of Wyoming, the three skeletons are expected to draw dinosaur enthusiasts and the scientific community.

While the museum displays a range of species that once lived on our shores and in our jungles, it's a reminder of not just how much was lost, but more importantly, how much more there remains to protect.

- CNA/av

A house for creatures great and small
Lim Yaohui The Straits Times AsiaOne 18 Apr 15;

DINOSAURS are here to stay at the new 8,500 sq m, $46 million Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, which opens its doors to the public on April 28.

Prince, Apollonia and Twinky, three 150-million-year-old diplodocid sauropod dinosaur skeletons, are the stars of the museum's main gallery that traces the history of life on earth.

The museum is Singapore's first and only natural history museum and is home to over a million plant and animal specimens.

Visitors can expect to see more than 2,000 specimens, divided into 15 zones, in the exhibition gallery which covers some 2,500 sq m. The rest will be kept for research and education purposes.

The main floor showcases the history and biodiversity of plants and animals on our planet, focusing on plants and animals from South-east Asia.

The mezzanine floor consists of two main areas - the heritage gallery, consisting of specimens from the original Raffles Museum, and the Singapore Today area which introduces the geology of Singapore and conservation efforts here.

The move from the old to new museum started in August last year and ends today.

It was a delicate journey that required a team of seven museum curators, 10 professional art movers and five student assistants and museum specialists.

Before the move, the specimens were placed in waterproof boxes to prevent condensation, then frozen at -21 deg C for two weeks in a big refrigerated container outside the museum as part of the decontamination process.

They were then thawed before being stored or displayed in the new building.

The museum has a long history, starting in 1878 as the Raffles Library and Museum. It was Sir Stamford Raffles' idea to build a depository for specimens of the region's flora and fauna.

It underwent several changes before the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research (RMBR), comprising the zoological collection and herbarium, was formed in 1998.

There, visitors could see a small part of the museum's collection in the public gallery, which was opened in 2000 on the third floor of Block S6 at the National University of Singapore's (NUS) Kent Ridge Campus.

But the RMBR collection was so large, only 0.1 per cent of it could be on show at any one time, leading to a quest for a bigger home.

The opening of the new museum, next to the University Cultural Centre at the NUS, will likely renew public interest in Singapore's biodiversity and natural heritage.

Museum unveils dino stars
Audrey Tan The Straits Times AsiaOne 20 Apr 15;

SINGAPORE - Singapore's newest museum, the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, yesterday unveiled its prehistoric stars Prince, Apollonia and Twinky.

The three diplodocid sauropod dinosaurs, among the biggest creatures to walk the earth 150 million years ago, were viewed by more than 250 guests, including President Tony Tan Keng Yam.

The skeletons are displayed under special lighting and with sound effects. Judging from the crowd's reaction to the four-minute "dino show", which is played every half-hour, this will be a star attraction.

The seven-storey museum at the National University of Singapore (NUS) in Kent Ridge opens its doors to the public on April 28 and offers much more than giant bones.

It has 2,000 other specimens, including a prized Asian Brown Flycatcher bird collected by British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, co-founder of the theory of evolution alongside Charles Darwin.

Singapore's first natural history museum traces its roots to the original Raffles Museum, the oldest such institution in the region.

Established through philanthropic gifts totalling $56 million, it aims to be a leader in South-east Asian biodiversity and conservation research, education and outreach.

Aside from its public exhibition space, a large area will be set aside for more than a million specimens to be used for research, with classrooms and teaching labs.

Dr Tan said in his speech: "This museum will serve to educate many generations of Singaporeans on the importance of protecting our heritage and contribute to regional and global biodiversity research."

A 200-year-old, 2.7m tusk of the narwhal, a marine mammal known as the "unicorn of the ocean", which once belonged to Singapore pioneer "Whampoa" Hoo Ah Kay, caught the eye of Mr Bernard Toh, 55, director of projects and communications in the NUS Office of the President.

"The narwhal's spire is such an elegant piece," he said. It was donated to the museum by Whampoa's great-granddaughter last year.

Environmentalist Ria Tan gave the thumbs up to the heritage gallery with its "Cabinets of Curiosity".

Visitors can open doors and drawers to learn more about the displays, which include animal specimens used for research.

Said Ms Tan: "To me, this is why we have a museum - it's not just pretty stuffed animals but about science, learning, understanding, and passing it on to the next generation."

One artefact, a leather-bound book called An Introduction To Malayan Birds, was written by British ornithologist Guy Charles Madoc using typewriter and paper taken covertly from the Japanese when he was in Changi Prison during World War II.

The $8 million dinosaur skeletons, of which Prince is the largest at 4m high and 27m long, are the museum's centrepiece.

They were acquired in 2011 from an American fossil company that found the remains between 2007 and 2010.

Said 22-year-old NUS student Sean Yap, another of yesterday's guests: "The dinosaurs are going to be a crowd puller."

Keeping crowds down with time-slot tickets
Audrey Tan My Paper AsiaOne 21 Apr 15;

A walk through Singapore's first and only natural history museum is meant to be a serene experience, much like taking a walk in a lush forest.

That is why the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, which opens its doors to the public next Tuesday, is selling tickets for 11/2 hour slots and not daily passes that allow guests entry at any time they choose.

"We calculated that the whole gallery experience will be between one and 11/2 hours, so we calibrated the slots on that basis," museum head Peter Ng told The Straits Times.

"Because of the initial interest, we did not want this place to be (a) 'free for all' - because then guests would not get the same experience," he added.

There are six such sessions throughout the day, with the first at 10am and the last at 5.30pm.

Each slot can accommodate about 200 people, and tickets must be pre-booked through ticketing agent Sistic as they are not available for sale on site.

Tickets cost $20 per adult and $12 per child, but Singaporeans and permanent residents enjoy discounted rates of $15 per adult and $8 per child.

But Professor Ng stressed that guests would not be turned away the minute their time runs out.

The time limit is merely an administrative guideline for selling tickets, so as to control the crowd in the 2,000 sq m exhibition space, he added.

Visitors to the museum, which is located within the National University of Singapore campus in Clementi, can browse a treasure trove of 2,000 artefacts in its biodiversity and heritage galleries.

They include the genuine fossils of three diplodocid sauropod dinosaurs, which are among the largest creatures to roam the earth 150 million years ago.

In response to netizens who ask why the museum is charging an admission fee when most museums here do not, Prof Ng said it was because the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum is not an institution under the National Heritage Board.

The statutory board under the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth runs six museums here including the National Museum of Singapore, which Singaporeans and permanent residents enjoy free admission to.

"The museum needs to be financially independent. The endowments and donations have been able to subsidise a large chunk of operating costs, but not fully. Therefore, we need ticketing to offset some of those costs," Prof Ng said.

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Scotland's plastic bag usage down 80% since 5p charge introduced

Dramatic reduction reflects similar falls in single-use carrier bag consumption in Wales and Northern Ireland, with England to bring in charge this year
Nicola Slawson The Guardian 17 Apr 15;

Plastic bag usage in Scotland has plummeted following the introduction of a 5p charge.

Early figures from retailers show that single-use carrier bag usage has fallen by more than 80% since the charge was introduced on 20 October 2014.

The results are in line with the dramatic reduction in plastic bag usage in Wales, which introduced the charge in 2011. It was also brought in by Northern Ireland in 2013 and a drop in usage of nearly 72% was reported the following year.

Meanwhile, official figures showed last year that the use of plastic bags had risen in the UK for the fourth year in a row to 8.3bn. England has yet to introduce the charge, but it is expected to come into force later in the autumn.

The figures were welcomed by environmental campaigners. Helen Bingham, a spokesperson for Keep Britain Tidy, said: “This is proof that a bag charge does work and significantly cuts carrier bag use in one fell swoop.

“We can’t wait to see it coming to England in October.”

It was also reported on Friday that charities in Scotland have benefited too. Scotland’s environment secretary, Richard Lochhead, announced that four major retailers have donated more than £1m to good causes since signing up to Zero Waste Scotland’s carrier bag commitment.

Marks & Spencer has raised £214,374 for good causes, with funds going to the Marine Conservation Society, WWF, the Orkney sustainable Fishery Improvement Programme and numerous smaller local charities.

Lochhead said he was delighted the charge was making such an impact.

He said: “It suggests that many consumers are now in the habit of reusing bags, which should reduce the amount of litter that blights our communities and natural environment, and costs a fortune to clean up.”

He declared that it was fantastic the charge has raised so much for worthy causes.

Lochead added: “This is just the tip of the iceberg and I am looking forward to seeing fuller figures later in the year.”

Iain Gulland, the chief executive of Zero Waste Scotland, said: “Over the past six months, we’ve seen an incredible change to shopping habits in Scotland. Shoppers have embraced the 5p charge and rapidly reduced their consumption of single-use carrier bags more readily than we ever hoped.”

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Demand for rubber 'threatens forests'

Helen Briggs BBC Environment 17 Apr 15;

The global demand for rubber tyres is threatening protected forests in Southeast Asia, according to a study.

Tropical forests are being cleared for rubber plantations, putting endangered birds, bats and primates at risk, say UK researchers.

By 2024, up to 8.5 million hectares of new rubber plantations will be needed to meet demand, they report in Conservation Letters.

This could have a "catastrophic" impact on wildlife, they warn.

Species such as the endangered white-shouldered ibis, yellow-cheeked crested gibbon and clouded leopard could lose precious habitat, said the team led by Eleanor Warren-Thomas, from the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia.

"The tyre industry consumes 70% of all natural rubber grown, and rising demand for vehicle and aeroplane tyres is behind the recent expansion of plantations. But the impact of this is a loss of tropical biodiversity," she said.

"We predict that between 4.3 and 8.5 million hectares of new plantations will be required to meet projected demand by 2024. This will threaten significant areas of Asian forest, including many protected areas."

Eight-point-five million hectares is about the size of the land area of Austria.

Biodiversity concern

Rubber is the most rapidly expanding tree crop within mainland Southeast Asia.

Concern has been growing among conservationists that switching land use to rubber cultivation can harm soil, water and biodiversity.

The first review of the effects on biodiversity and endangered species found the problem was comparable to oil palm and was linked to the growing tyre market.

The study focussed on four biodiversity hotspots in which rubber plantations are expanding:
=Sundaland (Malay Peninsula, Borneo, Sumatra, Java, and Bali)
=Indo-Burma (Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, most of Myanmar and Thailand, and parts of Southwest China, including Xishuangbanna and Hainan Island)
=Wallacea (Indonesian islands east of Bali and Borneo but west of New Guinea, plus Timor Leste)
=The Philippines.

It found that numbers of bird, bat and beetle species can decline by up to 75% in forests that have been converted to rubber.

Sustainability initiatives

The researchers, from UEA and the University of Sheffield, are calling on tyre manufacturers to support initiatives such as certification schemes.

Commenting on the study, Dr Matthew Struebig of the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology, University of Kent, UK, said certification standards for the rubber industry were key to protecting forests.

"There's a lot we can do as scientists and the public to make rubber production more wildlife-friendly," he said.

"It can range from agro-forestry - mixing rubber with other trees - to retaining patches of natural vegetation along rivers or in small conservation set-asides, as is done in organic farming in Europe.

"The onus is on the rubber industry to develop a certification standard that is credible, for the public to support that, and for scientists to help develop ways to manage the rubber crop in an environmentally friendly way."

The research is published in the journal Conservation Letters.

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