Dozens from nature community turn up in green in final farewell to wildlife consultant Subaraj Rajathurai

Dozens from the nature community were clad in green for the funeral wake of wildlife consultant Subaraj Rajathurai.
Dozens from the nature community were clad in green for the funeral wake of wildlife consultant Subaraj Rajathurai.ST PHOTO: AUDREY TAN

SINGAPORE - Wildlife consultant Subaraj Rajathurai so loved nature, he and his wife named their two sons after species of birds - Serin, 24, and Saker, 19.

And in a nod to his passion, dozens from the nature community were clad in green for his funeral on Wednesday (Oct 23), bidding farewell to a giant of a man who died the way he lived, in peace.

The 56-year-old had died of a heart attack during a nap on Tuesday afternoon.

"The community will have to band together. They know what Subaraj was fighting for, and they will continue to fight for him," his wife, Madam Shamla Subaraj, 54, said at the funeral.

She said while her late husband had a history of heart problems and had stents placed in his heart, his passing took the family by surprise.

He was just discharged from hospital on Monday. On Tuesday afternoon, Madam Shamla was preparing lunch when she tried to rouse him, only to discover he was gone.

"Subaraj was the pioneer of nature outreach and conservation activism in Singapore. He has left a huge footprint here and he will be sorely missed," said Mr Tony O'Dempsey, a member of the Nature Society (Singapore), who was at Mr Subaraj's funeral.

With more than three decades of experience exploring Singapore's nature areas, Mr Subaraj was well-known for his passion and knowledge of nature, and for being an outspoken advocate for Singapore's native wildlife.

He helped secure the conservation of areas such as the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, and was involved as a consultant in many developments, helping the authorities strike a balance between developing new infrastructure and the conservation of Singapore's remaining wild spaces.


Wildlife consultant Subaraj Rajathurai died of a heart attack at the age of 56 on Oct 22, 2019. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

These include developments such as the Cross Island MRT Line, which could potentially tunnel under the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, as well as the development of Tengah town, in which large swathes of secondary forests are to be cleared.

In 2017, Mr Subaraj was featured in the Government's Passion Made Possible branding exercise, to market Singapore to tourists and businesses.

"He told me very early on that the three most important things to him was nature, God, and me, in that order," said Madam Shamla, a former nurse who worked with him in the Strix Wildlife Consultancy they set up.

"I had to accept the order," she said.

 
 
 

While she knew nothing about nature before marrying him, she now takes part in some consultations that developers have with the nature community.

Herpetological Society of Singapore's co-founder Sankar Ananthanarayanan said: "One thing I admire about him is that he spoke truth to power. He isn't afraid to stick to his principles, and that was something powerful to me."

Mr Subaraj had refused to sign a non-disclosure agreement with the developer of the Mandai nature precinct, following a spate of roadkill incidents along Mandai Lake Road after works started, so he could continue speaking out about the works.

Said Mr Sankar: "What we can do is to learn from that, to keep that momentum going, and to fight for him."

On Wednesday afternoon, family and friends gathered to pay their final respects to Mr Subaraj at the family's Tampines flat.

As they spoke, a brahminy kite - a bird-of-prey native to Singapore - was circling outside the window.

It was as if it was paying homage to a friend.