Issue 8.5: October/November 2005

Animal House

by Ashley Stepanek
photo by Mimi Bergstrom

It’s mid-morning, but Sylvan Schwab has been up since 3:30 a.m., washing towels, cleaning up poop, cooking breakfast and administering meds. He’s bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, busy ambling through a modern-day Maui Garden of Eden in Haiku, where he’s built a sanctuary for rehabilitating injured and orphaned wildlife. On paper, it’s the East Maui Animal Refuge, but people warmly call it the Boo Boo Zoo.

Sylvan lives here with his wife Suzie, who is the Eve to his Adam, the delicate inspiration behind this kindhearted nonprofit. When they met over twenty-five years ago, Suzie was fighting cancer, living with it in secret. When Sylvan first said, "I love you," Suzie ran out crying and he chased after her. When he learned about her condition, they flew to Oahu to meet Jon Young, a doctor of Chinese medicine in Honolulu. After an intense year and a half of herbs, megavitamins, juiced veggies and acupuncture, Suzie’s cancer was in remission and has been ever since. Still, there was the next step to her survival: finding the will to live.

This was discovered by accident, a blessed result of the couple’s weekly visits to local pet stores. "Suzie would always pick out the sickly, malformed bird, lurking in the back corner of the cage," says Sylvan. Soon, the Schwabs’ condo was teeming with enfeebled birds and rabbits, and they needed a bigger place, so they relocated. Sylvan apprenticed as a volunteer under the Department of Land and Natural Resources, and now both the state and the feds license him to rehabilitate animals. At any given time, there are 500 at the zoo: goats, sheep, deer, pigs, geese, ducks, chickens, owls, cockatoos, herons and cats, to name a few, brought in at all hours, 365 days a year.

The emotional drive to care for these animals keeps Suzie going strong, and it’s also what gets Sylvan up at 3:30—or midnight, if it’s the day to pick up more feed. The Boo Boo Zoo is supported only by donations and those often fall short of monthly expenses; angels descend upon the sanctuary regularly to volunteer. "This is my life, not my job," Sylvan states, before taking a moment to snuggle with his "best friend," a blind axis deer.

Boo Boo Zoo