The Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

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A little-known fact about me: I worked at New York City’s American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) to pay my way through graduate school. And while I held an administrative position and spent much of my day in the Museum’s library assisting scientists accessing its vast collection of archival photographs and print materials, my time at the esteemed museum gave me deep knowledge of and appreciation for the behind-the-scenes of a natural history museum.

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Today, I visited The Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, Southeast Asia’s first natural history museum, which opened its doors to the public on April 28.

Its collection traces its roots to The Raffles Museum, the first such institution to be established in Singapore in 1878. The Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum inherited its collection from its predecessor, the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research (established in 1998), whose collection was that of the Zoological Reference Collection (formally opened in 1988), which stems from the original Raffles Museum! The present-day museum is home to over 560,000 catalogued lots and over a million specimens from throughout the region, and not all are on display.

The Preschooler and I were utterly enchanted with treasures from the natural world at the museum, from the bizarre to the beautiful.

Level 1 explores biodiversity, with a focus on the native and Southeast Asian flora and fauna. I have recently begun encouraging The Preschooler to keep a nature journal to document (in drawings and collages of found objects) her observations of the flora and fauna in our neighborhood, so it was a treat for her to see herbarium sheets, a cost-effective and space-effective way to preserve samples of plant diversity, prepared by real scientists.

I was squicked out by the mounted bird and mammal specimens (as I was at AMNH), but she was enthralled by the golden babirusa, a wild pig-like animal native to the island of Buru, and the cream-colored giant squirrel, a large squirrel species which was once abundant in Singapore but is now feared extinct.

And for three much talked-about diplodocid sauropod skeletons, nicknamed “Prince,” “Apollonia,” and “Twinky”? These skeletons, which were found between 2007 and 2010 in a quarry in a small town of Ten Sleep, Wyoming, tower over the main gallery. No doubt—dinosaurs are cool and Prince, Apollonia, and Twinky were purchased at extraordinary cost to draw visitors. But the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum tells the story of Singapore’s natural history, and it does so perfectly; these skeletons are incredibly out of place in this narrative.

Regardless, I can not wait to go back. I spent little time on Level 1M on this visit. This floor houses the “Heritage” galleries which detail the history of the museum and how the study of biodiversity has evolved over the years, as well as the geology of the island and the important conservation work done today by national agencies.