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Insight/Report on Private Giving
Island Mystery Leads to Creation of International Veterinary Aid Organization
Most visitors to Easter Island go with the single purpose of seeing the mysterious moai, the stone monolithic statues shrouded in mists of inscrutability that dot the hills and cliffs of the island. But Dr. Jon Arzt isn’t your everyday tourist. He came looking for hairy footwarts and left with a mystery almost as confounding as the origins of the moai.
Dr. Arzt, who now is working on a combined PhD/anatomical pathology residency in the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, was doing some research in Chile in 1998 on hairy footwarts, an important disease of dairy cattle, when he found himself with a bit of free time. Drawn to exotic places, he thought a trip to Easter Island, known locally as Rapa Nui, would be an interesting diversion and maybe even yield another population source of hairy footwarts.
Armed with his sample collection tools, Dr. Arzt arrived in Rapa Nui where locals informed him they didn’t have anything like hairy footwarts, but had this "mad cow” and “mad horse” disease” that was killing horses and cattle. Symptoms included progressive staggering, blindness, and jaundice leading to coma and eventually death. Concerned and intrigued, Dr. Arzt launched an investigation and uncovered the true source of illness was ingestion of a plant called cho cho (Crotalaria grahamiana) that was introduced to the island 20 years ago to control erosion. While solving the toxic plant mystery was satisfying, it didn’t alleviate the suffering of the animals and Dr. Arzt wanted to do more for the inhabitants of the small island. Rapa Nui has a population of approximately 2,500 people and approximately 4,000 horses and cattle.
"Basic, primary veterinary care was almost completely unavailable on Rapa Nui,” said Dr. Arzt. “While investigations of problems are relatively easy to fund, when you make the transition from data collection to remedy, the funding starts to fail. That’s why I created Veterinary Relief International – to take the next step from investigation to mitigation.”
Primarily using his own funds, Dr. Arzt set to work on Rapa Nui, incorporating a multi-faceted approach for dealing with the island’s veterinary concerns. In time, VRI grew and took on other projects, focusing primarily on remote locales with little or no access to veterinary services. Today, VRI continues work in Rapa Nui as well as in rural Brazil; St. Paul, Alaska; Russia; and other isolated locations. Dr. Arzt works closely with veterinary students at CSU who start their own projects through VRI, including the students who founded VIDAS.
"An important part of what we do is motivate veterinary students to think about veterinary medicine in a more global manner,” Dr. Arzt said. “VRI encourages students to be ambassadors for veterinary medicine who can take to less developed regions some very basic principles of animal husbandry and veterinary care that can improve the quality of life for people and animals.”
Current VRI projects include:
Dr. Arzt notes that though the task of providing help to animals in the developing world is daunting, the pay-off makes it worthwhile.
"Each time I go back to Rapa Nui, things look a little better and I can truly see the impact we are having,” said Dr. Arzt. “The horses don’t look so bad, people are aware of the cho cho plant and are confining their animals to private pastures, and they are eradicating the plant. We don’t try to change anyone’s culture, but work with them to alleviate simple, widespread problems that cause much pain and suffering for their animals.”
To learn more about Veterinary Relief International, or how you can help, visit their Web site at www.veterinaryreliefinternational.com . To request a copy of their most recent newsletter, contact Dr. Arzt at firstname.lastname@example.org.