As It Happened: Launching the “Private Lives: An Exposé of Singapore’s Rainforests” book and the Digital Nature Archive (DNA) of Singapore

UPDATE: Missed the event? Here it is on YouTube, thanks to NUS’ CIT team! 


On Wednesday the 4th of July 2012, while the Americans celebrated their Independence Day and the Europeans celebrated the discovery of the Higgs Boson, us here at the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research (RBMR) had our own reason to celebrate as well in a day jam-packed with surprises!

Kicking off the day’s events was the launch of the long-awaited ‘Private Lives: An Exposé of Singapore’s Rainforests’, the fourth installment in a series of books by RMBR exploring the hidden secrets of Singapore’s various habitats.

Edited by Ms Wang Luan Keng (RMBR), Mr Kelvin Lim (RMBR), Dr. Darren Yeo (NUS) and Dr. Shawn Lum (NTU), this colourful book tells the story of the denizens of Singapore’s rainforests through the use of stunning photographs and highlights the hidden lives of the plants and animals that call our forests their home.

The book was launched by Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister for Information, Communication and the Arts, in a launch that has since been humorously described as ‘controversial’ since it involved a cardboard tree collapsing to reveal the book.

Photo by Eunice Soh

Minister Yaacob Ibrahim launching the latest book in the ‘Private Lives’ series. Photo by Eunice Soh.

With the launch of the book also came the first surprise of the day as RMBR Director Professor Peter Ng announced the exciting news that a fifth book in the ‘Private Lives’ series will also be written over the next few months, this time focussing on our coral reefs, to be penned by our resident coral reef expert, Professor Chou Loke Ming.

Photo by Eunice Soh

Photo by Eunice Soh

Before the excitement could fade away, however, there were more surprises in store as the museum honoured the incredible work done by two outstanding individuals, Professor Wee Yeow Chin and Mdm Kok Oi Yee, both of whom were long-serving members of staff at NUS and who have since remained active members of the naturalist community even after their retirement.

Professor Wee Yeow Chin (left) and Mdm Kok Oi Yee (right). Photo by Eunice Soh.

Prof. Wee, a botanist who now runs the Bird Ecology Study Group (BESG) website, was distinguished for his principled yet irreverent personality by friends, colleagues and former students alike for his work as an academic as well as the president of the Nature Society of Singapore. Dr. Shawn Lum, who sent his regards via video recording, even recalled one incident where a botany practical examination became something of a practical joke when Prof Wee tried to pass off a tau sar pau as a puffball fungus. This story is now legend in the annals of the department’s history and is still trotted out regularly by those who survived to tell the tale.

Prof. Wee in action, way back!

Also recognised for her achievements was Mdm Kok Oi Yee, who was lauded for her tenacity and indefatigable spirit both as a staff member at the former Department of Zoology and as an active volunteer with RMBR who, to this day, continues to guide visitors around the public gallery as well as volunteer at Toddycats events, far surpassing many younger volunteers with her undiminishing energy.

Oi Yee hard at work preparing specimens for teaching purposes, some of which are still used in the department’s LSM modules today!

Oi Yee volunteering at the RMBR booth during the recent Festival of Biodiversity event, and every bit the live-wire as ever.

Both Prof Wee and Oi Yee have since been named Honorary Museum Associates, an honour reserved for a select few who have made exceptional contributions to the field of natural history, and they join Ria Tan and Dr. Chua Ee Kiam as recipients of this rare honour.

Even after all that, there was still more exciting news in store, as the RMBR took this opportunity to officially launch Singapore’s very own Digital Nature Archive (DNA) web portal as well. Packed with an ever-expanding wealth of information about Singapore’s biodiversity from records both past and present, the DNA portal is an excellent educational resource about Singapore’s wildlife and, best of all, it’s completely free!

Photo by Eunice Soh

With that, the festivities for the day drew to an end, and although so many exciting initiatives having been announced today, many more remain in the pipeline, especially the next installment of the ‘Private Lives’ series on Singapore’s coral reefs so do watch this space and stay tuned for more updates!

Photo by Eunice Soh

‘Private Lives: An Expose of Singapore’s Rainforests’ is now available for purchase at RMBR, the NUS Co-Op, Nature’s Niche, Select Bookstore and the Library Shop at the Singapore Botanic Gardens. The book retails at a price of $22 for paperback and $35 for a hardcover copy. Students, RMBR volunteers, NUS and ExxonMobil Staff are entitled to a 10% discount (available only at RMBR or through mail order at

The Digital Nature Archive of Singapore can be accessed at while the Bird Ecology Study Group website, now hosted by RMBR, can be accessed at

And here are some news articles about our event!

Online digital archive of plants, animals open (The Straits Times, Thursday 5 July 2012) Click on image to download pdf.

‘Ask the trees what the actual road names were …’ (Berita Harian, Friday 6 July 2012) Click on image to download pdf.

Free online datebase on Singapore nature (My Paper, Thursday 5 July 2012) Click on image to download pdf

To view more photographs on facebook, click HERE.

This entry was posted in Announcement, book, Event, people and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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