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  The Straits Times, 10 Jul 05
Turtle treasure trove: S'pore museum has world's largest collection
By Sarah Ng

THIS father and daughter are crazy about turtles and tortoises. Between them, Danny and Connie Tan have more than 3,000 turtle- and tortoise-shaped artefacts in all materials, from precious porcelain to plain plastic. Their collection is now the biggest in the world, according to Guinness World Records. They beat a British collector with 909 such artefacts.

'We were thrilled when we received a letter from Guinness last month saying our application was successful. What started out as a hobby has now put Singapore on the world map,' said Ms Tan, 35, who runs the family's event management company. She and her father, 67, received a confirmation certificate from the London-based organisation on June 27, eight months after their application.

The framed document is now in Singapore's first and only turtle and tortoise museum, located in the Chinese Garden in Jurong.

The Tans opened it in 2001 to house their artefact collection and more than 1,000 live turtles, tortoises and terrapins, kept in aquarium tanks and a pond. Their love affair with the reptile is no cheap thrill. Over the years, they have spent at least $600,000 on their artefact and live collection. The most expensive is a 40kg crystal turtle from Venice costing $12,800. The cheapest, a 50-cent ceramic turtle from Thailand. These two ornaments are among 3,456 artefacts that sit on the shelves lining the walls of the modest museum. Some are made of gold, jade and crystal, while others come in everyday materials such as coconut husk, stone and even grains of rice glued together. Most are ornaments but there are also jewellery, teapots, ashtrays and even a child's potty in the shape of a turtle.

Of the live collection, more than 90 per cent are endangered species, including the Burmese star tortoise, the alligator snapping turtle and the spotted pond turtle. Most have been the family's pets from as far back as 1978, before Singapore joined an international convention in 1986 to ban the import and export of endangered species.

In 2000, Mr Tan got a licence from the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) to keep the reptiles in the museum for educational purposes. The museum has also become home to about 100 specimens confiscated by AVA.

Mr Tan's obsession started 38 years ago, with a jade tortoise from Taiwan. Today, his collection hails from countries such as Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, China, South Africa, the United States, Russia and Spain. 'They are the most amazing ancient lifeform that is still around today, and the design on the shell is simply beautiful,' Mr Tan gushed. He only learnt later that they symbolise longevity in the Chinese culture.

Turtles and tortoises have changed very little in their 200-million-year history. On average, they can live between 80 and 150 years.

They are, therefore, not for those who can't commit long term. Said Ms Tan: 'They may be very cute when they are young, but as they grow, they become very heavy. 'You have to clean their shells and habitat and change the water every day.'

The museum opens daily from 9am to 6pm. Entry fee is $5 for adults, and $3 for senior citizens and children under six.

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