Beaver attacks man swimming in Connecticut River

  • A beaver swims in the Deerfield River in Shelburne in July 2020. FILE Photo/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 5/31/2023 6:01:59 PM

HATFIELD — A man swimming in the Connecticut River early Sunday evening was attacked by a rabid beaver and was hospitalized for treatment of his injuries, police said.

Police were called to the boat ramp at 6:47 p.m. to assist the injured man, Lt. Clinton Phillips said. The man, who was not identified, said he had been swimming in the area of the Hadley beach on the other bank when he was attacked. His friends brought him to the Hatfield side where an ambulance could get near the riverbank.

Phillips said the man suffered injuries to his arm and chest and was taken to a hospital. Animal control and the Board of Health were informed, he said.

A friend of the victim said Wednesday that he did not want to talk, but that he was home recovering from his injuries.

Board of Health Chairman Robert Osley said a specimen from the beaver was sent to the state epidemiologist’s laboratory in Jamaica Plain, which informed Hatfield officials late Wednesday that it had tested positive for rabies.

Osley said he had been told that the beaver went after the swimmer three times, and was still latched onto his arm when his friend helped him out onto the beach. He declined to say how the beaver was killed.

The police were called and suggested bringing the beaver over to the boat landing. The officer then called health officials.

Osley said the victim was taken directly to Baystate Medical Center and a course of rabies treatments was begun.

He said Hatfield health officials would inform the Hadley Police and Board of Health of the lab findings.

“This is the time of year when we start seeing cases of rabies,” he said. “If you see any animal acting strangely, stay away and call the authorities.”

Dave Wattles, black bear and fur-bearer biologist for the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, said it was rare in his experience for people to be bitten by a beaver.

One publicized attack, in September 2021, involved a Greenfield man, Mark “Pres” Pieraccini, 73, who nearly drowned and required stitches after repeatedly fighting off a beaver while swimming in a remote Franklin County pond.

Wattles said it was possible also that the beaver in Sunday’s incident had a lodge nearby that it was defending. Known for damming up woodland streams and building lodges of sticks, rocks and mud, beavers can also set up home in riverbank burrows, he said.

With “chisel teeth” made for stripping bark and cutting down trees, beavers can certainly do a lot of damage to human flesh, he noted.

Pieraccini suffered lacerations from head to toe, had chunks of flesh torn from his arms and legs, a fractured finger on his right hand and a lacerated tendon on his left index finger. He received five rounds of shots to ward off rabies.

“Any time a mammal bites someone, there is a risk of rabies,” Wattles said. “We always recommend you begin rabies treatment.”

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