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Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919). Through the Brazilian Wilderness. 1914.

Page 89

minutes later. But much more extraordinary was the fact that when a cayman about five feet long was wounded the piranhas attacked and tore it, and actually drove it out on the bank to face its human foes. The fish first attacked the wound; then, as the blood maddened them, they attacked all the soft parts, their terrible teeth cutting out chunks of tough hide and flesh. Evidently they did not molest either cayman or capybara while it was unwounded; but blood excited them to frenzy. Their habits are in some ways inexplicable. We saw men frequently bathing unmolested; but there are places where this is never safe, and in any place if a school of the fish appear swimmers are in danger; and a wounded man or beast is in deadly peril if piranhas are in the neighborhood. Ordinarily it appears that an unwounded man is attacked only by accident. Such accidents are rare; but they happen with sufficient frequency to justify much caution in entering water where piranhas abound.
  We frequently came across ponds tenanted by numbers of capybaras. The huge, pig-like rodents are said to be shy elsewhere. Here they were tame. The water was their home and refuge. They usually went ashore to feed on the grass, and made well-beaten trails in the marsh immediately around the water; but they must have travelled these at night, for we never saw them more than a few feet away from the water in the daytime. Even at midday we often came on them standing beside a bayou or pond. The dogs would rush wildly at such a standing beast, which would wait until they were only a few yards off and then dash into and under the water. The dogs would also run full tilt into the water, and it