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19th century Indiana Jones impacts Malaysia's conservation efforts

Birdman from Oregon

Wallace's and Darwin's journeys which led to their breakthrough theories of evolution.

IN the 19th century, the island of Borneo was still one of the most remote places on earth. This was the place where all forces of nature merged to create an environment so unique that through the eyes of an intrepid Englishman, there were animals unlike anywhere else on earth. Rainforest-covered volcanoes soared out of an ocean with ecosystems meeting to create unrivalled biodiversity.

This was Sarawak. A place where Alfred Russel Wallace spent eight years of his life exploring, from Nov 1, 1848 to Jan 25, 1856. This was the place where he made some of the most important scientific discoveries of all time. Wallace played a key role in the discovery of evolution and also laid the foundations for our understanding of how islands influence the natural world.

To him, this region formed part of the Malay Archipelago. To modern biologists today, it is Wallacea: thousands of Southeast Asian islands that lie between Asia and Australia. His research tried to answer one of the most profound questions of all: where does life come from? His exploits would, in time, change the course of history.

Wallace’s expedition resulted in The Malay Archipelago, a narrative of his travels and explorations which remains one of the classic tales from the history of science.

1.Wallace and teams of assistants procured 125,660 natural history specimens between 1854 and 1862. The specimens included insects, birds, reptiles, mammals and shells from Singapore, Sarawak in Borneo, Bali, Lombok, Makassar in Sulawesi, Maluku Islands, Papua, Java and Sumatra. (1)

Yet Alfred Russel Wallace is far from a household name — unlike his compatriot Charles Darwin. But he was undoubtedly a world-changer. While recovering from a bout of malaria on the remote Indonesian island of Halmahera, he ploughed through his illness and worked out the theory of natural selection.(2)


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