For the love of nature (NUS Buzz Quarterly Staff E-Newsletter, Issue #13, September 2012)

In the field at Pulau Semakau (Photo: H.H. Tan)

For the love of nature
by Veronique Ah Sen, Office of Corporate Relations

Private Lives: An Exposé of Singapore’s Rainforests, the fourth and latest edition in the Private Lives series produced by the NUS Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research and sponsored by ExxonMobil, was launched in July 2012 by Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister for Information, Communication and the Arts. The book, containing contributions from 19 scientists and naturalists, is a collection of short stories on various organisms in Singapore’s tropical rainforests.

Ms Wang Luan Keng, one of the co-editors of the book and Scientific Manager at the Department of Biological Sciences, tells NUS Buss more about the collection and Singapore’s biodiversity.

Can you share with us your role as the Scientific Manager at the Department of Biological Sciences?
I oversee the development of education programmes at the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research which offer a variety of educational workshops and programmes for teachers and students in the field of natural history and ecology. Leveraging on the Museum’s extensive knowledge base in biodiversity research, I help to make the workshops and programmes interactive and engaging via hands-on experience.

How did the book project come about?
The Private Lives series started in 2006. As there was a lack of local nature books for students, we came up with the idea of developing a series that would cover the major ecosystems in Singapore. We wanted the books to have lots of photos of local flora and fauna. At the same time, the books would contain interesting bits of information about the lives of the organisms that live in that particular ecosystem.

The foreword of the book mentioned that it is hoped that Singaporeans will be inspired by the stories to learn more about the country’s natural heritage. Can you elaborate on this?
We realise that the average Singaporean knows very little about the island’s biodiversity. Some people spend a lot of money to travel to other countries to look for organisms that we already have at our doorstep. Private Lives aims to highlight the rich biodiversity of Singapore and inspire readers to visit some of the several nature areas. There are also a lot of guided walks at these areas to raise public awareness.

What inspired you the most when you worked on this fourth book? Why?
I find it amazing that despite all the development and disappearance of the forests in Singapore, large animals, including the Malayan Porcupine and Malay Civet, are still being discovered and that new records of reptiles are still being made. I can only imagine the magnitude of the smaller animals, especially invertebrates that are still waiting to be explored. It also highlights how little we actually know about the rainforest and how much more work we need to do. We do need more young people to be interested in our rainforests. The same goes for all the other ecosystems.

What were the challenges faced in preparing this book?
As Singapore’s rainforest is so diverse, it is extremely tough to decide which system we want to focus on and what species to feature. In the end, we chose some common organisms that laymen may encounter in rainforests, as well as some rare or unusual ones to add interest to the book. The other challenges were in the editing and photo selection processes.

To sceptics, what do you have to say to make them care more about rainforests and environment conservation in general?
I hope that through our nature education and public outreach, people are more aware and inspired to think more about nature. By protecting the natural environment, they are actually protecting themselves and their families. My aim is to make that knowledge available to everyone and leave it to them to decide their own actions.

How can NUS staff join in to care about the nature environment? What are the platforms available at the University to raise their awareness?
There is too much wastage and consumerism in our society. If we can stop for a moment and think about our lifestyle, perhaps we can make some changes so that we can have a lesser impact on the environment.
Some of our colleagues are not aware that we have a natural history museum on campus. The museum has self-explanatory exhibits highlighting Singapore’s biodiversity. You can either join the guided tour of the public gallery or the guided nature walk organised by the museum during the weekends.

Private Lives: An Exposé of Singapore’s Rainforests can be purchased at the NUS Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research or online via NUS staff and students enjoy a 10% discount.

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