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Official magazine of the Biological Sciences Society
National University of Singapore
The Mudskipper, Jan 96
Wednesday, 31st January, 1996

N. Sivasothi
Zoology Postgraduate

A big thank you to the BSS SuperSenior and Zoology staff
who facilitated our student's visit to the Dinosaur World Tour

I have never been more than vaguely interested in dinosaurs, for I could never relate to fossils that were dug up in places far away. However, in 1990, a palaeontologist named Jack Horner talked about theories of warm-bloodedness, and brooding behaviour in such a graphical manner that he captivated an audience which included young children and academics. After the session, it was an elated bunch of second and third years who returned to campus, still chattering away about the talk, feeling quite grateful to A/Prof Chan Kai Lok. He had found out about the session shortly before, quickly conjured up a bus while I made the announcement to the class. He felt that it was an opportunity we simply could not miss, and you will realise that the impact of that talk is still evident in me today.

Drawing by Kelvin Lim from a photograph by Jim Tinios
In November 1995, the Dinosaur World Tour came to town! One of three chief scientists on the project is Phil Currie (Royal Tyrell Museum, Alberta) who decided as a boy that he would one day follow the footsteps of Roy Chapman Andrews. Andrews led the three Asiatic Expeditions of the American Museum of Natural History into Mongolia and China between 1916 and 1930. Though he failed in his quest of the origins of Homo sapiens, this Indiana Jones-like character guaranteed his inscription into the palaeontological hall of fame when his team uncovered the first dinosaur eggs known to science at the "Flaming Cliffs" (Shabarakh Usu, Mongolia).

Andrews earlier wrote, "As every explorer knows, the effort and nerve strain involved in financing a large expedition far surpasses the difficulties of actual field work." However, he apparently spent only 15 minutes in conversation when he obtained his first check! The Dinosaur Project, however, involved several years to obtain appropriate funding, and negotiations had to be conducted between the Canadian and Chinese governments which eventually led to an unprecedented five years of explorations in the two countries. Much of the funding was obtained on loan, and the the World Tour will hopefully help the non-profit Ex-Terra foundation recover the cost of running the explorations. It is the largest travelling dinosaur exhibit ever, which has now treated the public of three countries (including Singapore) to a Jurassic Park of 88 real fossils! Just imagine: the exhibit included several type specimens, the only complete black skeleton of Tyrannosaurus rex ("Black Beauty"), a 21 meter-long Mamenchisaurus (the largest Asian dinosaur), the troodontid skeleton of the bird- like Sinornithoides, a fleshed-out model of Albertosaurus, and a buried group of Pinacosaurus.

I used to imagine that real fossils were comprised largely of little bits and pieces few living people could recognise, which museum workers stored in obscure drawers. Yet here was a very large number of complete and recognisable, real fossils. Several of them were type specimens too! You will have little luck attempting to get your hands on the carefully stored holotypes of living animals in our department's museum, yet here were irreplaceable fossils up for display to young and old.


It is of little wonder that $3 million had been spent simply to bring the exhibition here - it had involved a lot of packing material and security as well. 48 containers measuring 40 feet each were freighted in from Vancouver - Michael Jackson had only required five for his concert!

The World Tour was no mere repast of facts, although these were intelligently presented in digestible quantities. An obvious effort was made to provide an insight into the reasoning and logic process adopted by leading palaeontologists in dealing with the evidence they were uncovering. The manner in which evidence was evaluated based on comparisons with present day models of anatomy, behaviour, embryology, botany, zoology and geography showcased palaeontology as a living science. It managed to inspire my interest in a way I would never have predicted.

adapted from an illustration of Jan Sovak by Kelvin Lim

This term, due to the efforts of a Biological Sciences Soceity SuperSenior and a few lecturers including A/P Chan, students in the AB303 and AB201 courses were provided the privilege of guided tour of these treasures from China's Gobi Desert, the Canadian Badlands, and the High Arctic Region. As a demonstrator of both courses, I greatly appreciated the opportunity offered to students. This was the result of the efforts of a BSS SuperSenior, Chang Chia Yi, and staff members, A/P Chan Kai Lok, Drs Peter Ng and Angus Munro. The Editor of The Mudskipper (loh Lih Woon) graciously allowed me the opportunity to insert this expression of appreciation and acknowledgement of their effort, on behalf of the students from these two courses.

The lecturers involved need not have seen to organising such a trip. However, their interest and concern for the education of our students was demonstrated once again. They grasped the opportunity offered by the Dinosaur World Tour, and facilitated the attendance of students by making it part of the practical series. In the case of AB201, it was even an additional session! This experience enhanced the understanding of our undergrads in a manner few of our practical sessions could hope to achieve.

Chia Yi is a fresh honours graduate of ours, and is working for the company that is marketing the exhibition. Through her efforts of working with her old society, the BSS, a slide talk was given by Linda Strong-Watson who had worked with the expedition in the Gobi Desert for three years. This formerly unscheduled talk was held within our campus itself, and those who attended were allowed to touch real fossils including the incredibly rare embryo of the crested duckbill dinosaur (hadrosaur). So precious is this fossil that it is one of only two that are always conferred the dignity of first class air travel with the speaker. All the other fossils travel by freight.

Few educational exhibitors are willing to invest the time and effort of their staff to market their programmes to students on campus. We are few in number, and it makes little economic sense to expand any effort here. However, motivated by a desire to ensure our biology students didn't miss this relevant but rare event, Chia Yi managed to incorporate several visits to campus into her schedule. The fruits of her labour resulted in the trips we made. The miserable number of some 100 individuals pales in comparison with the attendance from schools and private companies. On one occasion, this numbered 3,000. Not that she expected any more out of us - she was once an active BSS member, and knew about student's response! An exhibition which displays unique material and engages your intellect becomes an interesting event. It is a happy occasion when such an opportunity is provided by the thoughtfulness of the department's academics and alumni. The Dinosaur World Tour proved to be both!
© N Sivasothi, 2001