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  wild people: Joseph Koh

Joseph was a major influence in my own interest in nature. He was my boss and he used to take us out on trips to the wild side of Singapore. His excitement with nature is infectious and opened my eyes to the wonders of our natural places. Some of our most joyous moments were spent knee-deep in mud :-)

A patient and inspiring teacher, Joseph is an amazing treasure house of stories, information and ideas about nature and its impact on our daily lives and our society. It was not unusual to spend hours discussing and discovering nature together. Talking philosophy and science, history and biology. It was exhilirating.

Joseph also taught me a lot about photography. Not just the technical parts, but more importantly, the right attitude and principles.

Joseph is a Real Scientist who studies spiders and publishes in Real Science Journals. Joseph's book, Spiders of Singapore published in 1989, was the first guide book on the spiders of Singapore (actually Southeast Asia) since Thomas Workman published a pictorial guide to Malaysian spiders more than 100 years ago. The book is now in its 4th edition. Joseph was the first to agree to let me put up a web version of his guidebook so everyone can have quick and easy access into this wonderful book.

Joseph has discovered several new spider species, but has not had the time to document them in recent years. (Except Argiope mangal, found in mangrove.) He has passed specimens of what he believed to be new species to specialists working on the relevant groups. Some of them have since named the spiders after him, e.g., Sanmenia kohi and Tetragnatha josephi.

Although now based in Canberra, Joseph still finds the time, despite his horrendously packed schedule as a Seriously Important Diplomat who meets other Seriously Important People, to sneak out at night during his home leave to check out the spiders in our wild places. I try to bring along as many young people as possible on these trips, so they too can be inspired by Joseph.

Here is more about Joseph in his own words ...

How did you first get involved in working for nature in Singapore?
I wrote the BP-Science Centre Guidebook on Spiders of Singapore to open the eyes of Singaporeans, especially kids and teachers, to the fascinating world of spiders.

I wanted to excite them that we are well endowed with a rich variety of spiders - notwithstanding our compact size and urbanised environment. I wanted them to prompt them to be more observant, marvel at the multitude of colours, shapes and sizes and the diversity and beauty of their web architecture. I wanted them to discover the exciting array of strategies adopted by spiders to catch their prey, protect themselves from predators, attract their mates and look after their offspring.

If they appreciate the wild life, they would value the wild places, and they will help preserve our natural heritage. It is worth preserving because it is still there - in abundance and in exciting diversity.

What do you get out of working for nature?
I enjoy the excitement of finding something new in the field, and the intellectual detective work of identifying a spider in my home lab. But the greatest sense of satisfaction comes from seeing young kids hiking in our nature reserves, stopping to observe spiders, and sometimes rattling off their correct names. Or friends crazy enough to follow me to the jungle at night exclaiming that "Wow! I did not realise there were so many types of spiders in Singapore!"

What is your approach/personal motto in your work?
Promoting nature conservation is the art of maximising the number of naturalists in the community, or to get as many people as possible to marvel at the wonders of nature and the richness of our natural heritage.

Adversarial confrontation with self-righteous indignation will get us nowhere. In fact, it undermines our cause!

What are some of your current projects?
I am now trying to build up a scientific record of what we have in Singapore. Basically to photograph and examine spider body parts by microscope. [Ria's comment: Joseph loves to look at genitilia!]

I am now working towards illustrated guide of Southeast Asian spiders with Ria.

Joseph is 55 years young, his day job is as our High Commissioner to Canberra (that is, he is our Singapore Ambassador in Australia). During his short home leave, he makes a special effort to check out our wild places, and remains active in scientific study of spiders. He also gives educational talks on spiders and nature.
Posted by otterman Posted on 09/08/04 21:57
I'm waiting eagerly waiting Joseph's next book; ironically, Joseph's first, the BP/Science Centre guide, opened my eyes to the many unknown spiders in our mangroves and elsewhere. One of my favourites in the mangrove is Tetragnatha josephi. It is surprisingly common once you learn to spot the first one right under your nose along the Sungei Buloh Wetlands Reserve boardwalks!

Posted by Ria Posted on 09/08/04 22:03
I'm eagerly awaiting for his next book too!! The thing is that he and I are going to do it together. And the amount of work involved is monumental. Just during today's little walk not more than 300m into the forest, many of the spiders we picked up with untrained eyes were new to Joseph. Shudder! I try not to think too much about the work ahead, in case I faint :-) Just take pictures as best as I can, and pray hard for Joseph's continued good health.

Posted by nuwex Posted on 10/08/04 10:23
Pardon my ignorance, but when will the book be coming out? Still some time to go?

Posted by Ria Posted on 10/08/04 11:57
Dear Nuwex, alas, it will be some time still. We are looking at a 3-year time line. It takes at least one year to put out a book AFTER all the photos and info are already gathered. And that's working nearly full time. For us volunteers, it might take a little longer :-)

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these blog entries were first uploaded on MoBlog Singapore! Celebrate Singapore NDP 04
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