A man tells how an alligator ripped off his arm and spent several days lost in a swamp

Specifically for the New York Times Infobae.

Eric Merda doesn’t normally have much free time from his job as an irrigation crew, but on July 17th he had a much more comfortable schedule and wanted to squeeze in a few hours.

He decided to explore the Manatee Fish Camp near one of his jobs. He ended up in a swampy area near Sarasota, Florida, where he lives.

His downtime that summer Sunday turned into what he described as a nightmarish survival story: Four days and three nights lost, naked and suffering alone in the swamp after an alligator bit off his right arm.

“I braved the swamp,” Merda, 43, said on Wednesday, almost recovered and ready to share details of his experience. “The swamp answered me with another challenge.”

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is investigating the attack, a spokeswoman, Tammy Sapp, said.

A nuisance alligator scavenger removed two specimens (2 meters and 3 meters long) from Lake Manatee on July 21, he said.

According to Merda’s account, he began exploring the swamp, but the heat grew intense and he died of thirst. I couldn’t think straight and was lost. Like many Floridians, he was used to the risk of alligators, but decided his best option for finding his way back to his car was a swim in Manatee Lake.

The lake, which is just over 5 square kilometers in size, is an artificial reservoir that was created in the middle of the last century; A state park along part of its shore indicates that it is an alligator habitat.

Within minutes of entering the water, Merda said he noticed his clothes trailing behind him, so he got rid of them.

Then he saw the alligator in the water, less than two feet parallel to him.

Merda said he tried to swim away but the animal was faster. He clutched his right forearm and they fought back. The animal dove under him three times, then arched its forearm back and snapped its elbow, the alligator swimming away with its forearm and hand on its snout.

Merda struggled to reach the bank, sore and shocked. He fought the disorientation and tried to keep going, sleeping as best he could but not stopping looking for shore so as not to get lost again.

“I kept getting lost in the weeds,” he said. “I was afraid to go back in the water, but I had to do it. I didn’t know how the hell I was going to get out of there.”

Eventually, he said, the bleeding from his arm stopped, but he knew he was ill. “My bone was sticking out, my muscles were clenching,” he explained, and in a scene worthy of a horror movie, he said he looked back and “the alligator kept popping up here and there.”

Merda said that he climbed a tree stump for a while hoping someone would find him, but in the end he decided to move on. He rested when his body no longer allowed him to move forward.

“There were many times I couldn’t go on, many,” he recalled. “Of course, as the days got longer, it got worse. If I had to guess, I’ll bet I didn’t move more than 300 feet in the last day.”

Flies swarmed his member. His training in the Reserve Officer Corps taught him that he had to tie off his arm, but he had nothing to do with it. He cut himself between thorns while walking; red ants attacked his back. The purple flowers he picked became his food. He drank water from the lake.

Merda said his family and friends were beginning to realize something was wrong because he wasn’t posting on Facebook and were calling local hospitals to try and locate him.

The rescue finally ended on July 20 when he got to a fence at Lake Manatee Fish Camp and found a man. The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office and the Manatee County Emergency Medical Services responded.

A helicopter took him to safety and he spent three weeks at Sarasota Memorial Hospital. Doctors amputated an extra portion of his arm because it was infected.

In states with large alligator populations, including Florida and Louisiana, humans are at risk when near a body of water and should take just as much care to avoid an attack as they would to avoid drowning, so Frank Mazzotti, a professor of wildlife ecology and conservation at the University of Florida who has worked with alligators and crocodiles in the Everglades for 40 years.

Since 2010, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has reported between six and 15 unprovoked alligator bites per year. In 2021 there were nine in total and none was fatal. In 2022, 22 bite incidents were reported, but all may not be fully counted, depending on whether the incident involved arson.

Experts recommend swimming only in safe areas, keeping pets on a leash, and not feeding alligators. According to Mazzotti, animals don’t hunt when they attack humans simply because they’re too big. Most attacks occur because the alligator feels it has invaded its territory.

For now, alligator populations are “healthy,” he said, and as real estate development expands, people could increase their exposure to these animals. The Fish and Wildlife Commission operates a service, the State Nuisance Alligator Program, to remove alligators that are deemed a threat to humans, pets, or property.

However, when an attack does occur, there are few options. “If you’re stuck in an alligator’s jaws and it won’t let go, fight like your life depends on it,” Mazzotti said. “Because that is”.

As for Merda, he’s getting over the event. “Every day I thank God for giving me the opportunity to fight my way out of this,” he said.

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