Proposal to digitise naturalist Wallace's vast collection


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  • Friday, 08 Nov 2013

KUCHING: The specimens collected by English naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace in Sarawak over 100 years ago can be digitised and made available to local scientists and researchers.

Making this proposal, Datuk Seri Gathorne, the Earl of Cranbrook, said many of Wallace’s vast collection of over 125,000 specimens were now in the Natural History Museum in London and in Oxford.

“About one-fifth of the total originated in Sarawak. We can be grateful that this valuable resource has been preserved for the past 158 years since they were collected, but it is not sensible to propose that any significant specimens should be returned to their country of origin.

“Yet it is wasteful of resources if Sarawak biologists have to travel to Britain to work on these species,” he said at the second international conference on Wallace here yesterday.

Gathorne, who is the conference’s external adviser, said new photographic and digitisation technology could provide a practical solution.

As such, he proposed that the conference should work towards a complete collection of digital images of the specimens of animals discovered by Wallace in Sarawak as one of its objectives.

“The location of this resource would probably be best-placed at the Sarawak Museum, where it would be accessible by researchers and teachers at higher educational institutions in the state, as well as national and foreign visiting scientists.

“It would also be a permanent and invaluable resource in applied fields such as agriculture, forestry and wood processing or medical and veterinary research into vectors.

“And, finally, this digital record would be a fitting memorial of Alfred Russel Wallace’s unremitting diligence as a field collector in Sarawak, his first island destination and the place where he made some of his most important discoveries,” he said.

In response, Special Functions Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem, who was representing Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud to open the conference, made a commitment on behalf of the state government towards supporting the proposal.

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