By Eisen Teo
THERE are more than enough specimens, the expertise is there and the land has been allocated, but plans for Singapore's own natural history museum are falling short of one crucial element: Money.
The museum, to be situated in the heart of the National University of Singapore's (NUS) new University Town in about three years, is spearheaded by the NUS' department of biological sciences.
The department needs to raise at least $24 million by June this year, or it may have to look for a new site.
The Straits Times understands that since a $10 million donation from a mystery donor, which was received in January, the department has raised only an additional $1 million in public and corporate donations.
However, a minimum of $35 million is needed for a 6,000sqm to 8,000sqm building to store, study and exhibit about 500,000 specimens of mammals, birds, amphibians and other invertebrates - the oldest natural history collection of animals in Singapore.
Currently, less than 1 per cent of this collection is on display at the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research (RMBR) - a modest public gallery run by the department and housed within its premises on the NUS campus - because of a severe lack of space.
The two professors spearheading the project team of 13 - director of special projects at NUS' science faculty Leo Tan, and head of RMBR and NUS' Tropical Marine Science Institute Peter Ng - remain cautiously optimistic about coming up with the remaining cash for the project.
Professor Tan emphasised that the team is 'leaving no stone unturned' in reaching out to the public and corporations.
It will be sending out e-mail and letters to a list of past and potential contributors to persuade them to donate.
They also set up a website for donations last week at rmbr.nus.edu.sg/ buildingfund/index.html, and are mulling over the use of social networking tools like Facebook.
Prof Tan said: 'If you believe in something, pursue it, don't think of the consequences of failure.
'Do it because you know it's the right thing to do...and this museum is for our children and grandchildren, not for us.'
The proposed site in the University Town will be ideal for the museum, he added, and will be an iconic attraction for the Town.
If the June target cannot be reached, 'there will probably be another site', he said, 'but we think the people of Singapore deserve to get the museum as soon as possible'.
Since media reports highlighted the RMBR's collection last year, it has seen a sharp increase in visitors - from 400 walk-in visitors in 2008 to 6,841 last year.
Prof Tan, whose previous projects included the Science Centre and the successful bid to designate Labrador Park as a nature reserve, is adamant that his last project before he retires 'in several years' time' succeeds.
'Our collection is not just Singapore's heritage, but the heritage of South-east Asia too,' he said.
When contacted, an NUS spokesman said that the university will be providing information on its University Town at a media briefing on Monday.
This article was first published in The Straits Times.