Friday, September 9, 2011

Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research

I've been dying to go to the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research. Maybe that's a nerdy thing to say, but it's true. It's a whole museum devoted to one of my most keen interests- nature and wildlife in Southeast Asia. Unfortunately, the opening hours are incredibly inconvenient: from 9-5 Monday-Friday, in the middle of when I have to work. But since I'll be switching jobs soon (back to NTU to work with the monkeys!) and have some vacation days to use up, I went ahead and took a Monday off for my museum trip.

The museum is located at NUS, which is right near Bryan's work, so I met him for lunch at Fusionopolis then took the bus to the campus. It turned out to be super easy to get there from the bus stop (there are signs to lead the way), and I was there in no time. The museum is up on the third floor of the Biology building, and admission is free. Hooray!

The museum was cool and quiet. I was the only person there in the middle of the day. At first it was really cool, but after a while, I'll admit that the dim lighting and animal carcasses gave me a little case of the willies. I felt like I was in Night at the Museum.
Cool! But also kind of freaky... a sun bear, a dhole, some kind of goat thing, a leathery turtle,
a tiger, a leopard, a pangolin, a water monitor, and a wild pig

I took it slow around the small one-room museum. There were lots of preserved specimens, many of them from Singapore's earlier days. Some of the specimens were labeled as from the 1890's or early 1900's. Many of the animals had been collected in Singapore, while others were animals that were native to S'pore but the specimens had been collected elsewhere. A lot of the animals that were listed as native were ones that I've never seen here, but would love to get lucky enough to spot.
Oriental small-clawed otter, currently endangered in S'pore
Dugong skull, collected off the coast of S'pore
A HUGE Asian softshell turtle
A rather rabid-looking specimen of the greater mousedeer

The animal I'm most keen to see in Singapore is the banded leaf monkey. They're the only type of monkey other than the macaque that still exists here. My super monkey researcher buddy Andie Ang studied them and found that there are more still living here than the 30 that were estimated to still be surviving. Way to go, Andie!
The rare banded leaf monkey

I would also very much enjoy seeing the pangolin. They're still around the island here and there, but apparently they're pretty elusive. They kind of kick butt. A lot of people mistakenly think that they're reptiles because they appear to be covered in scales, but the scales are actually made up of fused together fur. Pretty cool, huh?
One of the country's stranger residents

The pigs were interesting. Bryan and I have seen them in the wild at Pulau Ubin, but I didn't know much about them. Information posted at the museum said that the pigs were thought to be locally extinct, but they repopulated Singapore when some individuals found their way across the Johor Straits. They're now common not only on Pulau Ubin, but on the main island too, including in the Central Nature Reserves.
Wild piglets

I had known that tigers once ran wild in Singapore, and several times have heard AR Wallace's quote that Singaporean tigers were responsible for killing approximately "a Chinaman a day." However, I never knew that leopards were also local in the early 1900's, although, due to their secretive nature, they were not seen nearly as frequently as the more conspicuous tigers. While a lot of the specimens looked a little freaky or weird, the leopard had maintained its beauty even post-mortem.
Beautiful and intimidating

The Raffles Museum has chosen the common palm civet as their mascot. The plaque next to the mascot said "This animal was chosen because it is one of the few large native species in Singapore that is capable of thriving in man-made environments." That may be true, but what about the long-tailed macaque?! They're the masters of thriving in man-made environments!! If I was choosing a personal mascot, I would choose the macaque. They're resilient, adaptable, fun-loving, cute, and super smart. Civets are cool too, but I'm a macaque girl all the way.
RMBR mascot

Are you ready for something seriously creepy? Prepare yourself, because when you close your eyes to go to sleep tonight, this image may haunt you. I admit, I was all alone in that museum and when I saw this guy I started having all sorts of frantic thoughts about zombified monkeys, thirsty for human blood. It freaked me out, and I'm pretty sure this specimen could have starred in the movie Blood Monkey.
AHHH! Seriously. What. The. Heck.
Creepy specimen, compared with what a real live macaque actually looks like. Very little resemblance.

In the middle of the museum was a display of Southeast Asian animals that live outside of Singapore. There was a sweet little family of proboscis monkeys from Borneo. They were cool, but, much like the detached rhino head in the corner, it made me sad to think about how all these dead animals had met their demise (even though many of them had been dead for about a century).
Less creepy monkey specimens
A Sumatran rhino, missing a rather significant proportion of himself
I love these weird guys!! A juvenile tapir.

After spending an inordinate amount of time ogling Southeast Asia's interesting mammals, I moved on to inspect some of the local specimens of birds, fish, and reptiles.
King cobra...another one I've never seen! Maybe that's lucky!
Keeled rat snake
Black & red broadbill in front, green broadbills in back
That's a LOT of dead birds!
Massive orange-spotted grouper

It was pretty neat to see the crabs. I've had trouble identifying some of the ones that we've seen in mangrove areas and along the beach, and there they all were, laid out neatly with orderly labels under each one. Perfect!
Coolest name = Dana's Eyes-Wide-Apart Crab
Coolest crab is definitely the hairy crab!!!

You know what else was pretty fascinating? The collection of insects! We'd seen some of them before, most memorably the giant forest scorpion (Pulau Ubin), the giant millipede (Bukit Timah), and the atlas moth (Sungei Buloh). Have you heard that the atlas moths wing tips supposedly look like snake heads in order to ward off predators? Look closely and you'll see the similarity.

Despite scaring myself silly by thinking about all the animals coming to life and attacking, I really enjoyed my time at the museum. I highly recommend checking it out for yourself. If you're a nature buff I'm sure you'll love it and even if you're not, you don't have much to lose - admission is free!


  1. Thanks so much for this post. I wanted to know more about this museum actually, because my sister is coming into town and she's a bio/zoology major. I know she'd totally nerd out here.

    Have a good weekend!

  2. Pretty creepy/cool! We were talking about how the ancient Egyptians mummified animals in class earlier; this reminded me of that.

  3. I've read the Wallace quote, but also a refutation that said secret society warfare statistics among the Chinese were attributed to tigers to avoid tangles with the law.

  4. Flora- Glad you liked it! The museum is small. It probably won't take long, so maybe you could combine it with another outing. But if she's a bio person, I'm sure she'll enjoy it. It's also just got a quirky vibe, so it's hard not to get a kick out of it.

    Matt- Creepy indeed! Especially all alone in there! And fascinating about the secret societies!!!

  5. This kind of reminds me of the Government Museum in Chennai, India, that has a natural history section with a collection of animal species found in India, from reptiles and fish to birds and mammals. The museum was run-down and all the lights were off. It definitely was creepy.

  6. Awesome work Mr. Author. These kind of source helps the students or rsearchers in this field. I too love to visit such places and almost I vist such locations once or twice in a month.