Stories about people getting mauled by bears are somewhat expected, especially as conflicts between people and bruins continue to rise across North America.
Stories about people getting mauled by beavers? Well, that’s not very common at all, and when it does happen, it certainly warrants some attention.
According to Mass Live News, 73-year-old Mark Pieraccini of Greenfield, Massachusetts, was swimming in a pond near the town of Hatfield when North America’s largest rodent violently attacked him. He reportedly had to fight for his life with the beaver for several minutes before he was able to break free and escape to dry land.
In addition to almost drowning, he had chunks of flesh torn from his arms and legs. He also was dealt scratches and lacerations all over his body, including his scalp, and he tore a tendon in one of his fingers and fractured a knuckle while punching the beaver.
Because beaver attacks are so rare, experts speculate that the animal most likely has rabies. Because of that, Pieraccini also had to undergo treatment for rabies.
While the violent ambush from the beaver was physically harmful, he said his biggest concern was going under the water and not coming back up.
His battle with the beaver lasted for more than 5 minutes, and it took place in a deep part of the lake where he could not touch the bottom with his feet. Trying to both stay afloat and defend himself from the rodent left him exhausted and at genuine risk of drowning.
“At some point, I said to myself, ‘If I stop and fight him one more time, I’m going to drown.”
To ultimately escape the beaver’s onslaught, he decided to make one final push to swim approximately 40 yards to shore. For the duration of that desperate sprint to safety, the beaver was literally nipping at his heels, scratching and biting his legs, arms, back, and buttocks along the way.
A spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries & Wildlife said that there are very few incidents of people in the state being attacked by beavers.
“But they have happened.”
Beaver attacks are pretty rare, but not as rare as I would have guessed. Apparently, there have been about 11 or 12 beaver attacks in the U.S. over the past decade. Almost all of them involved animals infected with rabies. For comparison, there have been 445 shark attacks in the U.S. over the same time span, 7 of them fatal.
The size and strength of beavers can be shocking to folks who have not seen them up close. They can grow as long as 3-feet and weigh anywhere between 35-80 pounds.
80-pounds? That’s the size of a big dog. Imagine that thing trying to attack you in the water. Oh, hell no.
Conflicts between people and beavers are not unheard of, but those conflicts typically involve flooded houses and other property damage due to dam building, not deep water fistfights.
Rabid beavers can be particularly aggressive, though.
In 2018 a man clubbed a rabid beaver to death in Pennsylvania after it attacked him and his daughter while kayaking.
The Recent History Of Beaver Attacks
A rabid beaver also attacked a group of swimmers in Virginia in 2019.
There is also at least one documented instance of a beaver attack turning fatal. In 2013 a fisherman in Belarus was attacked by a Eurasian beaver and bled out after the femoral artery in his leg was severed. That man reportedly instigated the attack, though when he picked the beaver up and tried to pose with it for photos.
Wildlife biologists in Massachusetts say beavers are quite territorial and are not afraid to defend their territory against intruders, including people. Their territorial nature combined with rabies is a recipe for attacks like this.
“Almost all of these incidents that we are aware of have occurred when people are swimming in a beaver pond near a beaver lodge.”
Pieraccini says he has been swimming in the pond for some time, and he’s aware of two beaver lodges nearby but wasn’t concerned since they were on the opposite end of the pond from where he was attacked.
“I know every inch of that pond. I know where the beaver lodges are.”
When asked by the Division of Wildlife to identify the pond where the attack occurred, he refused to specify, citing fear that all of the beavers in the area would be trapped and killed.
The pond can only be accessed by a bike trail deep into woods, and he contends that the pond is so remote that it’s unlikely other people will be swimming there this year. He also said that he’s never seen another person at the pond, and he’s been swimming there since the 1970s. He likes to take a dip in the pond to cool down after his bike rides.
“I just Zen out. It’s very therapeutic.”
He said that he’d had fish rub against him underwater before, but he knew as soon as he encountered the beaver that there was something different going on. The beaver bumped into his thigh underwater and then quickly bumped into him again.
“I didn’t know what it was, but it struck me again — this time harder.”
He likened the situation to the movie Jaws, where the lady terrifyingly realizes she’s being attacked by a shark at the moment it’s happening. Except it wasn’t a shark in this instance, it was a fired-up 50-pound rodent.
When the beaver returned, he punched it hoping to scare it off. That only angered the beaver and intensified its attacks. That’s when the 5-minute battle and the frantic sprint to shore took place.
By the time he reached shallow enough water to regain his footing, he had said he barely had enough energy to lift his arms or stand on his own two legs. Finally, he was able to crawl out of the water, and that’s when he realized he was bleeding profusely from several spots. After catching his breath and gathering energy to get moving again, he had to ride his bike a mile and a half to reach his car. He then drove to a nearby medical center.
Doctors In Disbelief
Photos from the emergency room show the extent of his injuries.
He said the medical professionals at the emergency room didn’t seem to believe or comprehend what he was trying to tell them when he said a beaver violently attacked him. He then took his shirt off to begin showing them his injuries.
“I couldn’t process it. No one had any clue what I was dealing with until I took my clothes off.”
Dr. Benjamin Woodard, who was on shift when Pieraccini came into the emergency room, agrees with that assessment of the situation.
“We had no idea of the extent of the injuries until he undressed and we examined him.
He’s lucky he didn’t drown or exsanguinate (bleed to death) in the woods.
It could have been very bad.”
Pieraccini doubts that he’ll ever go swimming in that pond again, despite doing so for decades.
“If I swam in the ocean off the Cape and was attacked by a shark, I could never swim in the ocean again.”