Celebrating Dr. Lim Boo Liat, Malaysia’s Pioneering Zoologist!

Today’s Doodle honors the late Dr. Lim Boo Liat, an eminent zoologist and mammalogist who dedicated his life to unearthing and conserving Malaysia’s biological diversity.

celebrating dr. lim boo liat, malaysia’s pioneering zoologist!

He helped start Zoo Negara and wrote more than 300 scientific publications about mammalogy and

On this day in 2003, Dr. Lim was awarded an Honorary Membership to the American Society of Mammalogists (ASM) for his outstanding contribution to the science of mammalogy. He was the first Southeast Asian (and only the fourth Asian) to become an Honorary Member of the ASM, an award that dates back to 1919.

The life and career of Lim Boo Liat

Dr. Lim was born on August 21, 1926 in Klang, Selangor. He was first exposed to small animals and insects
during his time in high school when he would frequent the local school garden.

In 1941, World War II hit Malaysia and Lim being only 16, was forced to abandon his studies and take on odd jobs to support his family. This led him to Carey Island in the coastal region of Selangor in 1944, where he befriended the Orang Asli, and learned how to identify animals from them.

celebrating dr. lim boo liat, malaysia’s pioneering zoologist!

In 1947, after the war, he applied for a temporary Lab Assistant job at the Institute of Medical Research (IMR) in Kuala Lumpur.

The zoological knowledge that he obtained from the Orang Asli also led him to his first role which found him involved in field biological research under his mentors, the late Professor J.L. Harrison (Medical Zoologist) and the late Professor J.R. Audy (Medical Ecologist) specializing in host-parasite relationships in the study of zoonotic diseases.

In 1952, he was promoted to a permanent Lab Assistant and was involved in a number of scientific expeditions. From 1955 to 1969, he published more than 80 scientific papers on vertebrate animals and was asked to head a newly founded Medical Ecology Division at the IMR.

He became an expert recognized by both local and foreign research institutions in the study of animals and their role in the transmission of diseases. He founded the concept of ‘ecological labeling by parasite pattern’ in which
parasites and food habits of small mammals were good indicators of their behavioral habits in their natural environments.

The finding was published in the Zoological Society of London’s Journal of Zoology in 1967.

Seeing his potential and expertise in the field, a few professors from European universities paved the way for him to pursue his Master’s Degree, despite his lack of a formal education. In fact, Dr. Lim did not even receive his Bachelor’s Degree before his sponsorship to the University of Aberdeen in Scotland.

celebrating dr. lim boo liat, malaysia’s pioneering zoologist!

He returned to Malaysia in 1972 and continued running the Medical Ecology Division, this time as a full-fledged zoologist.

Dr. Lim received his PhD in Zoology at the Universiti Sains Malaysia in 1977 and was seconded to the World Health Organization (WHO) in Indonesia where he headed the Vector Biology Control Research Unit in charge of conducting research on subjects such as plague, malaria control, and rodent control, until his retirement in 1987.

Even after retiring, he remained active in the scene, assisting research studies for undergraduate and postgraduate students at local universities and was involved in the conservation of natural history in association with government and non-government agencies.

Leaving a legacy behind

Dr. Lim Boo Liat is an inspiration to the industry. Dubbed as 'the father of zoology', Dr. Lim and his fellow
researchers discovered a new species of the mountain reed snake, Macrocalamus gentingensis, in
Genting Highlands, Pahang, which is found nowhere else in the world.

Today, his work is recognized and has been cited in many journals and publications around the world.

In recognition of his contribution in the field of biological science, the following species have been
named after him by foreign and local scientists:

  • Chigger: Babiangia booliati (Audy, 1965), Leptotrombidium limi (Nadchatram & Traub, 1962);
  • Flea: Medwayellia limi (Traub, 1972);
  • Parasitic worms: Plasmodium booliati (Sandosham, Yap & Omar, 1965), Heligmonella limbooliati (Durette-Desset, Diaw & Krishnansamy, 1975), Brienlia booliati (Ho & Singh, 1973);
  • Beetle: Thalliseliodes limbooliati (Chújô, 1963);
  • Protozoa: Sarcocystis booliati (Dissanaike & Poopalachelvam, 1975);
  • Lizard: Dibamus booliati (Das & Yaakob, 2003);
  • Snake: Oligodon booliati (Leong & Grismer, 2004);
  • Frog: Kalophrynus limbooliati (Matsui, Nishikawa, Belabut, Norhayati & Yong, 2012)
  • Snail: Rahula limbooliati (Foon & Marzuki, 2020)

Honorable recognitions

Dr. Lim has been awarded numerous accolades including the 1977 Sandosham Gold Medal from the Malaysian Society of Parasitology and Tropical Medicine, the 1995 Science and Technology Award by Malaysia Toray Science Foundation (MTSF) in recognition of his outstanding achievements in vertebrate ecology and zoonotic diseases in the environment, the 2007 Spallanzani Award from the North American Society for Bat Research, and the 2013 Merdeka Award for the environment category.

Thank you, Dr. Lim Boo Liat for your dedication and advocacy in protecting the nation’s rich biodiversity!