September 28, 2022

Learning from natural history

2 min read

I REFER to the recent news on the death of the last Malaysian Sumatran rhinoceros affectionately named Iman. Her death marks the extinction of the species in Malaysia and serves as a wake-up call to and reminder of the desperate and declining state of wildlife in Malaysia.

I feel compelled to bring attention to the lack of exposure to natural history education among our schoolchildren.

Natural history is the observation of plants, fungi and animals in their natural environments. I feel that a lack of integration of this field in education plays a major role in the lack of awareness of students when it comes to natural life and the environment.

As more and more people live in cities, children and adults alike have fewer opportunities to come in contact with the remarkable variety of plants and animals in our country. Thus, fewer people are concerned with the endangerment and extinction of our native plants and animals.

I have the pleasure of owning a book of fascinating natural history drawings titled Natural History Drawings: The Complete William Farquhar Collection, Malay Peninsula 1803-1818 that contains 477 watercolour artworks depicting the plants and animals of the Malay peninsula.

The plants and animals were brought to life by unknown Chinese artists whom Colonel Farquhar (1774-1839), the first British Resident and Commandant of colonial Singapore, commissioned to record the local flora and fauna he discovered.

The Chinese artists combined traditional Chinese brush strokes with the Western perspective and naturalism, resulting in an unconventional and unique mix of two different traditions. Just from these amazing and charming artworks alone, I have grown to have a deeper appreciation for our biodiversity.

To my surprise, I have sighted some of the exotic animals featured in the book within the vicinity of my house.

These include the black-and-red broadbill (takau rakit), black-bellied malkoha (burung genuk perut hitam), Malayan porcupine (landak raya), smooth otter (berang-berang) and Sunda pangolin (tenggiling).

I feel that this appreciation for nature is lacking in our present education framework. The education system should encourage students to appreciate nature through exposure, such as through field trips and observations that can even be conducted within the school compound.

Specific modules on natural history can be implemented into the syllabus, which can include wildlife observation and bird-watching.

Portfolios can be created by students based on their observations and recordings.

To encourage further interest in the subject, more books on natural history should be available for reading in public and school libraries.

Furthermore, natural history museums should be set up in every state to encourage the public to appreciate nature.

As the Malay saying goes “Jika tak kenal maka tak cinta”.