One issue is a federal law that requires a permitted wildlife rehabilitator to release a wild animal back into its natural habitat after 180 days, or euthanize it if it cannot be saved. But the main issue is that EMAR has been operating as a refuge and nonprofit without a state Wildlife Rehabilitation Permit. The permit renewal request was denied in 2009 by DLNR, because EMAR was found to be in violation of the state’s rehabilitation facility standards.
Representatives from the Department of the Interior, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, and local law enforcement visited Schwab last month, confiscating the 17 birds in his care covered by federal migratory bird laws.
“A federal permit is invalid without a state permit,” said Ken Foote of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “This was strictly a federal action, which law enforcement felt was warranted based on an inspection the week prior. Our primary concern was the health and welfare of the animals in captivity, and the health and welfare of the wild animals potentially interacting with them. I can tell you that the condition of the animals that were seized was very, very poor.”
Oh deer! East Maui Animal Refuge’s Sylvan Schwab has allowed a large variety of species—domestic and wild—to cohabitate in the sanctuary. Biosecurity concerns due to this cohabitation disallow the state Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) from issuing state operating permits. And a federal law requires a permitted wildlife rehabilitator to release a wild animal back into its natural habitat after 180 days, or euthanize it if it cannot be saved. Schwab argues that putting axis deer back into the wild, when DLNR is trying to cull down the population, doesn’t make ecological sense.
Foote was unable to comment on the ultimate fate of those birds, but Schwab and his volunteers believe that they were euthanized immediately after being seized.
“I have not hidden the fact that I have kept these animals alive, or that I was trying to get this law changed,” Schwab said.
To that end, Schwab has gathered thousands of petition signatures. “I needed to show that it’s not just me. I’m not some neurotic, hoarding, emotional individual. I’m keeping animals alive, that to my mind, would have been dead unnecessarily. The imperfect ones are the reason we’re here in the first place. Because we’re the Boo Boo Zoo!”
He added, “If an animal is suffering, I absolutely agree it should be put out of its misery.”
Schwab has also allowed a large variety of species—domestic and wild—to cohabitate in the refuge. Biosecurity concerns due to this cohabitation disallow the DLNR from issuing state operating permits.
“Wild animals that are going to be released back into the environment cannot intermix with other domestic species and risk introducing a disease back into the wild population upon release,” said DLNR Wildlife Program Manager Scott Fretz. In addition, “You can’t habituate birds or deer to humans, as this will only be dangerous for them when released back into the wild.”
Schwab’s argument against releasing all rehabilitated wildlife, specifically the axis deer on his property, pertains to the unique nature of Maui’s ecosystem. “There are certain aspects of the law that in Maui are illogical,” he said. “Putting the deer back into the wild, when in fact, DLNR is trying to cull down the population of deer, doesn’t make any ecological sense. I have no problem complying with the law if the law makes sense.”
State Division of Forestry and Wildlife Maui Branch Manager John Cumming confirmed that county and local agencies are working to decrease the wild population of deer on Maui. Some of the steps that have been taken have include opening hunting to all species of deer and issuing Damage Control Permits to land owners, allowing them to hunt deer at night.
However, Fretz said, “EMAR’s violation was holding animals without a permit. And, they continued to operate for two years after failing inspection. Their conditions do not meet the standards for a Hawai‘i Wildlife Rehabilitation Permit.”
He cited overcrowding, inadequate housing, lack of cleanliness, and especially, biosecurity, as primary issues that need to be dealt with. “We want to work with them to get the requirements met,” said Fretz.
Schwab wants to work toward compliance, and discuss the future of the deer with DLNR. “They could say they’re going to grandfather in the deer that have been here long-term if I keep them away with a nine-foot fence. Or, they could say they’re coming down to kill all the deer. I have no power either way. But releasing more deer onto Maui’s land is ecologically stupid.”
“There is no permit required to hold game animals,” said Fretz. “We do not regulate the holding of axis deer. Our issue is the conditions of the facility. A rehab facility needs to be biosecure. You can’t have wild and domestic animals intermixing,” he reiterated.
“The measures that Sylvan is proposing for compliance are certainly appropriate,” said Cummings, “and we are willing to work with him to bring this whole thing to resolution.”
Cummings said he knows of no plans to remove or euthanize the deer currently at the refuge.
Schwab and his volunteers have started clearing a large space for an enclosed deer habitat, separate from the domestic companion and farm animals on the property.
Schwab asks his supporters to donate their time and money to help build the new deer enclosure. In order to re-open to visitors, he also needs to obtain a federal Exhibition Permit, which carries its own set of regulations.
“It’s a complicated and difficult situation,” said Schwab.