Ms. Tan Fui Lian was born, raised, and educated in Sabah, one of the states of the Federation of Malaysia. Born to a second generation Chinese immigrant and a Bornean native mother, Fui Lian grew up in a very diverse community where languages, religions, and cultures had few boundaries.
Fui Lian has loved the outdoors since she was a little girl. Her family home was surrounded by fruit trees, rice fields and partly skirted by a small creek that was fringed with clumps of bamboo thickets. Frogs, snakes, lizards, birds, small mammals, and a diversity of insects during the day and at night were not strangers to the kids of that neighborhood.
Fui Lian's love of animals induced her to work at the Veterinary and Animal Husbandry Department after she left high school. One of Fui Lian’s ambitions was to become a scientist after working for several years with microbiologists and pathologists at the Animal Diseases Research Center, a part of the Veterinary & Animal Husbandry Department. In 1980, Fui Lian was hired as the first female field personnel at Sabah Parks, a government organization that oversees the conservation of natural areas. As a research assistant, she helped local and visiting scientists in field collecting and lab preservation procedures. The rich natural world of Sabah Parks led Fui Lian to become the first local herpetological researcher in Sabah in 1984. During her service with Sabah Parks, she led several herpetological research and collecting projects around Kinabalu Park, which surrounds the highest mountain in South East Asia, Mount Kinabalu. While not in the field Fui Lian gave audio-visual presentations and nature walks to school groups and other park visitors.
In 1992 Fui Lian left her homeland to join her long time collaborator and husband in Chicago. She continues her interest in conservation research in Sabah. She and her former colleagues at Sabah Parks have collaborated on several papers. Their research studies include the breeding habits of some of the lesser known montane species in the largest state park of Sabah, the Crocker Range Park. She also helps colleagues in the US with English translations of Chinese technical literature. She occupies one of the Field Museum laboratory spaces as a Research Associate of the Division of Amphibians and Reptiles.
The reference library at the Field Museum is one of the best in the country, especially with regard to the literature on the herpetofauna of Asia in general and Borneo in particular. It is essential for all persons doing research on the herpetofauna of Borneo to have access to this resource. The reference library and the natural history collections at the Field Museum are the major resources for biologists including research associates like Ms. Tan herself.
Inger and Tan communicated with other biologists and researchers in institutions especially in S.E. Asia. During the period of 1994-2005 they traveled to Sri Lanka, Thailand and Malaysia to help students of several institutions develop their herpetological research and collection activities. Because of their knowledge of the natural history of Sabah, Tan and Inger helped Field Museum lead a natural history expedition/tour in 1999.
The collaboration of Inger and Tan that began in 1987 resulted in a number of new discoveries in herpetology and significant addition of specimens to both the Field Museum and Sabah Parks collections. Ms. Tan and Curator Emeritus Dr. Robert F. Inger have co-authored several scientific papers. In 1996, their book, The Natural History of Amphibians and Reptiles of Sabah, was published. The book provides an overview of the rich herpetofauna of northern Borneo and describes how these animals fit into the complex working of Borneo’s ecosystems. A revised second edition was published in 2010.
Fui Lian's favorite destination during the summer is Nachusa Grasslands in Franklin Grove, Illinois (about 100 miles west of Chicago). She joins many Steward volunteers out there to restore one of the most beautiful prairie and Savannah grasslands in the country. The leaders of the working crew often lead nature hikes around their individual units.
During the spring or fall, Tan Fui Lian joins Bob Inger to St. Louis, Missouri, the birth place of the latter where several of the Ingers’ descendants still live. One of the highlights of their trip there is to visit the historic Missouri Botanic Garden.
Fui Lian goes to Asia at least once a year to visit her family, relatives, friends, and colleagues in Sabah. While in Sabah she visits Kinabalu Park where her collaborators and former colleagues are stationed. Kinabalu Park lies at an altitude that varies from 150 meters to 4,121 meters. Its natural environment brings peace and comfort to everyone who come to visit. Fui Lian loves to hike around the park along well established trails. Bird watching and botanizing are two of Fui Lian’s favorite past times.