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Official Magazine of the Nature Society (Singapore)
Unstoppable Sutari
Part 1 | Part 2 | Jungle Camp Cook Sutari shares tips

After conquering all of Malaysia's high mountain peaks and others in the region, this adventurer turned nature conservationist is now reaching for the Stars! A profile of the man, a fellow birder describes as 'more fun and more noisy than 10 crows and 20 mynas put together'—by Betty L Khoo

A happy Sutari sitting next to a
floating fish farm cum jetty at
Banding Island Resort in Belum

Sutari's drawings of
native endangered mammal
species for a set of
greeting cards
At last I meet Sutari Supari... a full head of glossy black hair frames a baby face; he greets me with a wide-open boyish grin. I am charmed and surprised. How can one so young have done so much?

His exploits and accomplishments are many - he is an artist/draughtsman/nature conservationist/adventurer/ expedition leader/co-author/co-(telescope) designer/
jungle camp cook/birder.

It is a bigger surprise to learn that Sutari is not 28, which is what he looks, but 48! He chuckles ... our conversation is punctuated with his ready belly-deep laughter.. and I realise that his good nature is the secret of his youthful looks. That and his obvious passion or passions for his nature pursuits.

Nature society members know Sutari as an intrepid trekker and passionate conservationist. He soldered alongside Dr Ho Hua Chew and many others in NSS to help collect 25,000 signatures to try and save the wetlands around Senoko power station. 'That was an intense campaign', he remembers. Days, nights, weekends were spent at shopping centres convincing Singaporeans that 'once these places are gone, you can't bring them back.'
So many ordinary people were convinced and signed... but in vain. Still, Sutari has the satisfaction of knowing that his efforts 'lobbying, researching and drawing maps' helped to save and shape another precious wetland area - the Sungei Buloh Nature Reserve.

But Sutari was not a conservationist or birder when he was a young man. This former Police Constable who studied advertising art—and made a 28-year career as a draughtsman with the PWD—was lured more by the challenge of climbing mountains than by the soothing sights of nature.

As co-founder and later chairman of the Siglap CC Venturers' Club, Sutari has climbed 'every high peak in West and East Malaysia' and quite a few in the region—though he and his team fell short of conquering the 3,726 metre Rinjani in Lombok. 'We were hit by a severe storm for three days.'

Not that Sutari has stopped climbing—far from it. He is still leading many adventure-filled treks, but nowadays this passionate conservationist climbs much more mindful of the fragility and beauty of nature.

Many nature lovers have had a kampung upbringing. Not so Sutari. He was born in Batu Pahat (Johor) in 1951 but at age five his Javanese father brought him down to Singapore to live.

'My father was working as a chauffeur for a doctor (Robert Loh, now President of the Council of Social Services) in Cairnhill and our family lived with them. Although there was a Boyanese kampung in the corner of Cairnhill/Scotts Road at the time, the whole area was already quite suburban by the late 1950s.

With fellow birder Alfred Chia,
listening for the
Short-tailed Babbler and
Grey-headed Fish-eagle
at MacRitchie Reservoir

Sutari peering at waders in
K. Selangor Nature Park

Sutari at the 1995 AGM of the
Malayan Nature Society held in Johor. Seated on left is
Dr Salleh, the President of MNS

Sutari receiving a plaque
from the Guest-of-Honor
Dr Kanwaljit Soin (NMP) in the
1994 Singapore Bird Race
with Evelyn Eng-Lim at right

It was only when the Winstedt Primary schoolboy joined the scouts that he had the chance to explore rural Singapore. Sutari's eyes brighten at the recollection of setting up camp and campfires at Pasir Ris. 'We walked on a network of bunds in Jurong's marshlands and Ulu Pandan. We hiked through coconut plantations in Siglap and Changi, and ended up at picturesque fishing villages'.

The young, adventure-bound Sutari did not miss or mourn the loss of kampungs and nature areas. Not until he joined the Nature Society in 1975 when stalwarts like PN Avadani, B N Rao, VP Sharma, Wee Yeow Chin and Ilsa Sharp were very active.

Even then, 'adventure was my first love'. The turning point came when he got involved with the bird group in 1986. 'They wanted to go to wild nature places they hadn't been to before. I wanted to learn about birds. I was the key to their getting to those places'.

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