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Veterinary Student Battles Deadly Animal Illness On Easter Island

Like many tourists to the remote Pacific destination of Easter Island, Jonathan Arzt, a student at the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine, saw the sickly livestock staggering among the ancient statues. Arzt, on a veterinary school exchange in Chile, became intrigued by the medical mystery.

"Jon has always been interested in field problems and international research," says David Hird, director of the School's Office of International Programs. "He was already in Chile participating in a livestock project sponsored by our office and The Center for Food Animal Health. Also, since Jon had already taken the Master of Preventive Veterinary Medicine training here in Davis, he was well-prepared to investigate this serious problem of horses and cattle."

Hird, an expert in epidemiology and food animals, is one of several faculty members who encouraged Arzt to return to the island for further study. Arzt examined animals, interviewed ranchers, and collected dozens of forage plants. He discovered that two plant species introduced to prevent erosion were poisoning the free-roaming livestock with a pyrrolizidine alkaloid that causes serious liver damage and, eventually, death.

Arzt has begun an effort in international veterinary relief to halt animal suffering, protect animals from toxic exposures, safeguard people relying on cattle for meat and milk, and preserve fragile cultural sites important to scholars and the tourist economy.

The School is incorporating Arzt's discoveries into an interactive, Web-based, instructional exercise. Using data and images from Arzt's experience and a step-by-step inquiry, students will be able to simulate the diagnosis of a hypothetical case similar to the one found on Easter Island.

Arzt's initial findings appear in the April, 1999 journal, Veterinary & Human Toxicology. A graduate of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine dual degree program, he received his DVM and Master of Preventive Veterinary Medicine degrees in 1999.

Media contact: -- Lynn Narlesky , UC Davis Vet. Med. Dean's Office, (530) 752-5257