Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Officially unveiled just last night, we had the opportunity to be one of the first members of the public to view the museum's newest exhibit - the Jubilee Whale! It was a pleasant surprise that we did not foresee when we booked our tickets about a month ago as one of our family outings for the March school holidays.

The Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LCKNHM) was opened in 2014, and we were rather late in getting our first visit, which is a surprise considering Daddy is a natural-history enthusiast who has published an e-book on seashells with the museum in 2011 when it was still known as the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity of Research (RMBR).

The key attractions, such as the trio of sauropod dinosaurs and the sperm whale have been well publicised. There have been mixed reviews from members of the public since its' opening. Yet, our family believes in the inspirational power of seeing the real deal. Yes, the exhibits may appear rather ordinary, but each and every piece holds a unique story, and it's up to us to discover them!

We arrived early for the 10 am slot as booked and were immediately stimulated by the stuffed orangutan next to ticketing counter. Even this generated so much conversation it took us a while to get through the main entrance!

The following photographs document our walk through the two levels of the museum. The galleries on the ground floor have exhibits that teach about life and the various classifications of biodiversity. The upper level documents the stories, people and artifacts of Singapore's natural heritage. Where possible, the photographs from the same gallery are consolidated together.

Enjoy the photo-essay! 

Life, Plants, Fungi

Plants are often considered lower life forms compared to animals, but we learnt that the phrase 'lower life form' does not exist when we discovered just how complicated everything is. It's amazing that they all have their roles and their perfect place. Take for example the most majestic of all flowers, the Rafflesia, which is also the most repulsive at the same time. Why the stench? Why the gaudy appearance? Some questions are not meant to be answered, but to tickle and awe the mind of the common man.

Kudos to the museum's efforts to tell as much of the story as possible. We take for granted that a good portion God's creations are so small we seldom get to see them. Yet, the tiniest of cells have responsibilities beyond our wildest dreams. The wall projection of various microscopic processes blew us away. Who would think we'd see a white blood cell behaving like a lion on the prowl for the 'bad guys', or the reproduction of bacteria!

We knew about cells, that they did special things, and germs and what havoc they could cause. But seeing them in action reminded us how little we really understood. Seeing them move around like little animals made us question our thinking.

Listening in to a video screen.

Checking out specimens of bacteria under a high powered microscope.

This was an interactive exhibit that allowed visitors to choose the time period and see the continents move around the globe.

A life-size mock up of the Titan Arum, one of the largest flowers in the world.

Fungi come in all shapes and sizes. Some look appetising, while some look absolutely disgusting!


The main gallery comprises our three sauropod stars: Apollonia, Prince and Twinky! Visitors would like to believe they are indeed a daddy, mummy and baby as they were found together, but a staff of the museum explained that there is no evidence that this was so. Yet, they are a treasure to behold, and rank among some of the most complete sauropod skeletons in the world. These are the stuff dreams are made of!

Not all the parts on the mounted skeleton are real. The actual skull and neck of one of the dinosaurs is displayed still in its matrix. The mounted skull is a recreation of the real thing. It's an intricate and tedious process to display these fossils, and a sometimes decisions are made not to mount certain parts that may be too difficult to extract or are badly damaged.

An interesting video documenting how the specimens were found, extracted, transported and eventually mounted in the museum.

Some pretty flying dinosaurs hanging from the ceiling.


Wet snake specimens of all shapes and sizes...

That's the mighty King Cobra in the middle!

The large Estaurine Crocodile specimen was collected in 1888!



My photographs don't do justice to the avian fauna displayed as we were just too distracted by the other galleries that had more of our favourite stuff.


It's right here that the star of the day was on display - the Jubilee Whale! A member of the museum told me that the skeleton was prepared in record time, typical of Singaporean efficiency perhaps! Most other institutions bury large animals in the backyard, let nature run its course and dig them out after a few years. The skeleton of the Sperm Whale was revealed manually, mostly by hand and it took barely 250 days!

Some of the tools used to reveal the skeleton, along with some information of the bugs that helped with the process.

A guide from the museum explains what was found in the tummy of the whale. These include......

Various species of squid, trash and other interesting finds from the belly of the whale!

The gallery also had a a well-curated display of other mammalian skeletons, which were somewhat neglected by the visitors today due to most of the attention being showered on the whale. Here are some photos of the gallery.

Short-Finned Pilot Whale

Surili Monkey; Barking Deer; Moonrat

Human skull replicas. According to the display, all but one have become extinct. Hmmm......


We were running out of time and skimmed through the fish gallery to check out the upper level. Hence, our photographs don't do this section enough justice.

Parts representing the extreme adaptations of some fish.

This display may not come under the 'Fish' gallery, but it does have some interesting fossilised fish forms from a time long ago.

This gallery talks about the marine cycles, and how life in the ocean is affected by the tides, currents and the moon.


This has to be Daddy's favourite gallery! It's not the easiest to appreciate as many of the most beautiful specimens are not very big and showy. They often neglected by visitors to museums, but this class of creation holds its ground as being one of the most sophisticated and variable in the animal kingdom!

Some of these snails are ferocious predators!

Molluscs are not all about seashells. Many of the most advanced molluscs do not have external skeletons. These are the ones that taste the best!


Arthropods are a group of animals that have exo-skeletons, segmented bodies that have joined appendages. It still baffles me that both marine and land animals, such as crabs and insects are classified together under this group.

Like the fish gallery, the crabs got very little love from us. There were many more crustacean specimens in the wet jars, but we did not have time to enjoy them fully.

A showcase of diversity! From the very large, to the very odd shaped crabs. Not all of them are yummy, so be careful what you chew on!

Insects are an amazing display of the diversity of God's creation. It helps that many of them are nicely coloured, attracting some attention from the younger ones.

Hmmm, we used to keep a praying-mantis. I wonder if there's one here that resembles our pet!

Heritage Level 1M

Heritage here has a dual meaning, referring to both the natural heritage that is unique to Singapore and the history of the museum that documents it. The galleries showcase the vision and diligence of the curators and collectors that have helped to shape the role of the museum and establish its scientific value.

This Black Marlin was found beached at East Coast Park in 1986. only the skin is of the original fish, which was draped over a cast of the specimen.

Some of the exhibits show early collections of fauna from around the region, and highlight pioneers who had the vision to create a collection Singapore could call its own.

The cabinets come with pull-out drawers that allow visitors to feel like researchers discovering information for themselves.

The kids also sat in little 'sound booths' and enjoyed the narratives and stories of the earliest collections and efforts.

This Leatherback Turtle specimen was collected from Siglap in 1883. It was the first and only time a Leatherback Turtle has been found in Singapore waters.

This exhibit tells the sad tale of how native tigers became extinct in Singapore.

There is also a section on the geology of Singapore and how these influence the biodiversity of the island.

Interactions and Conclusions

In all, it was a pleasant day at the museum. As already seen by many of the interactive elements of the Heritage Gallery, there is effort in the museum's design to engage both young and old alike. Being the first day of the Jubilee Whale exhibit also generated a lot of excitement among the school holiday crowd. Media was present and Daddy and Mummy were interviewed by reporters more than once.

Pull-out cards and drawers recreated a feeling of discovery for younger visitors.

There was also a competition for visitors to identify unknown eggs.

We diligently fill out our answer sheets with answers to the egg identity quiz and returned them to the museum staff, who.....

...... gave us this souvenir as a unique take-home memoir of our visit. Thank you, LKCNHM!

There is also a web-mobile e-gallery online where you can find detailed descriptions for each exhibit. They came in handy in the writing of this blog entry!

Informative pamphlets to take home.

It was also heartwarming to see many students enjoying the exhibits. Some students came in their school uniforms in organised groups and there were even groups of younger primary school aged kids. I noted a school group that was taking the opportunity to facilitate a visit for a group of senior citizens. Indeed, it felt like a day out for both the young and old, and a place for all to enjoy.

Many forget this is a research facility first. The public gallery is but a small representation of the real value of the entire museum. There are many priceless specimens that the public may never get to set their eyes on, but we're not complaining. Who knows? The mysteries of the unseen may provoke us to want to find out more, inspire our young to pursue related fields of study or simply ignite passion to be advocates of our natural heritage.