Dzaki main
Specialist Associate (Collections)
Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

The Science and Art of Natural History

“My parents would tell me I was not like other children, instead of playing at the playground, I would be elsewhere collecting sticks, leaves and rocks,” shared Mr Muhammad Dzaki bin Safaruan on his innate interest as a child.

That childhood curiosity has influenced Dzaki’s career path as a Collections Specialist Associate at the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) where he lives out his passion for nature and biodiversity. Attached to the Crustacean collection, Dzaki is responsible for maintaining the physical integrity of the specimens, as well as preserving, annotating and archiving them in the museum database.

“You could say that I am a librarian of dead animals,” Dzaki said with a touch of humour. “There isn’t a mundane moment, because there’s a lot of work to be done for hundreds and thousands of specimens. I also get to interact with many different visiting researchers, and learn what they work on.”


Dzaki examines an isopod specimen from the SJADES 2018 marine survey expedition.

It was not all smooth sailing, however. Hailing from a non-life science background, Dzaki initially found the scientific terminologies daunting, but he worked hard to learn on the job, finding out more about taxonomical hierarchies and physical characteristics of each specimen, as well as preservation and archival procedures.

Besides working in the labs, Dzaki is also involved in fieldwork such as surveying and sampling of locations for specimens and traipsing on expeditions such as the SJADES deep-sea expedition in 2018 and RIMBA-Sarawak (Research for Intensified Management of Bio-Rich Areas of Sarawak) trips in 2019. From conducting marine surveys in the Indian Ocean as well as night surveys in the forest, to becoming an impromptu snake-wrangler in the Malaysian jungles, it has been a wild ride for Dzaki.

“One thing I’ve learnt that really left an impression on me is how everything in nature is well-connected,” Dzaki mused. “Every single organism has a role to play in nature, including human beings. We are all small cogs in this big machine called the ecosystem and that really fascinates me.”

With his Fine Arts degree from the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, Dzaki also puts his artistic skills and training into good use. While doing fieldwork, he captures interesting sights in his sketches – campsites, local food, and of course, the local flora and fauna. Marrying his aptitude for art and his passion for natural history, Dzaki occasionally designs and illustrates collaterals for the Museum such as its New Year greeting cards. He has designed a set of posters of every species on Christmas Island, which was sold in the museum gift shop as part of the Christmas Island exhibition. He also had the opportunity to do a ‘live illustration’ of animals and plants on the pillars of the Museum during a fund-raising event.

Dzaki collage

Dzaki’s numerous artistic projects for the Museum (clockwise from left): Live illustration of flora and fauna on museum pillars during a fund-raising event; a field sketch of a campsite; a year-end greeting card; and a Malayan tapir illustration for the 200: A Natural History exhibition in 2019

Dzaki enjoys the camaraderie at the LKCNHM, where he has been since 2016. “We are like one small family working towards one common goal for the Museum,” he enthuses. “Everyone here is so passionate about their research and you do not stop learning something new every day.”

For Dzaki, the most rewarding part of the job is the chance to share knowledge with the community through LKCNHM’s exhibitions. “It is nice to know that within Singapore, there are so many people who are passionate about natural history and biodiversity.”


Other Stories