News Section: Community
Sunday Favorites: In Search of the Skunk Ape
Part One of Our Florida-Themed Halloween Series
MYAKKA -- It was early March when several people started pulling off the side of the road in Myakka River State Park after they saw something large walking in the distance.
A father and son had been watching a large figure, recording it on an iPhone as it made its way though a grassy lowland, destined for the forest tree line on the other side. Others started whipping out phones and cameras, chatting quietly amongst themselves as the thing lumbered along, everyone sort of dancing around what they thought it could be, but no one coming right out and saying it.
The two men shooting the incident on their cell phones suddenly ran into the open field, trying to get closer to the figure, which had ducked behind some tall grass.
Two minutes into their footage, something can be seen, popping its head up to take a look at the crowd watching it. Still photos show a large dark figure, its back turned to the group, trying to make its way into the trees.
Just days later the footage made its way to YouTube with the label "Myakka Skunk Ape," and an area legend was suddenly reborn.
Of course, this wasn't the first reports of the elusive Skunk Ape, Florida’s equivalent to Big Foot, which dates back generations.
While stories and legends vary, the descriptions remain primarily the same. The animal is a giant, hairy, anthropoid that is comparable to its more legendary relative in both size and appearance. But instead of the northern wilderness, the Skunk Ape prefers a hot and humid sub-tropical environment; often roaming the Florida swamplands to stalk its prey.
The name Skunk Ape is derived from the foul odor the beast emits, which smells similar to rotten cabbage, according to dozens of reports. People who have encountered the beast say they were alerted of its presence when crickets stopped chirping and they began to gag because of a horrible skunk-like smell.
While no scientific evidence has ever proven the beast’s existence, there have been thousands of accounts from credible sources, including law enforcement officials and political leaders. The Native American tribes that once inhabited Florida would scare their children into going to sleep with stories of “giant sand people” or “mangrove people” that would come out at night to eat little children.
Henry Tanner, an Orange County pioneer, gave a historical account about an excavation of an Indian mound near the St. John’s River which reveled several skeletons “as big as giants and skulls that would fit over a normal man’s head.”
Workers at another dig in 1935 uncovered a human thighbone “as long as a man’s whole leg,” according to Weird Florida, a book by author Charlie Carlson that tracks the weird and scary across the Sunshine State.
Carlson goes on to reference other accounts: some boy scouts who came across a “hairy monster with the body of an ape and a human face” during a campout in Ocala National Forest circa 1959; a sleeping trucker who was pulled from the cab of his vehicle by the beast while parked at a rest stop but who managed to escape, and a hunter from Melbourne who found several large footprints while walking in woods and later made casts.
Yet, even though the Skunk Ape is elusive and no real concrete evidence exists, state legislators thought enough of the beast to pass House Bill 1664, a bill that protected the animal by promising legal sanctions against anyone who possessed, harmed or molested any “humanoid animal which is native to Florida”, according to Carlson.
So, is it real?
Dave Shealey thinks so. The Ochopee, Fla. resident has spent decades scouring the Big Cypress National Preserve for clues, even opening a tourist attraction/research center that caters to his efforts and those curious enough to seek out the beast for themselves.
The “Skunk Ape Research Headquarters” is now open to the public seven days a week and customers can purchase Skunk Ape memorabilia, along with blow guns, knives and alligator heads, all to help fund Shealey’s research.
Then, there was an anonymous woman who claimed to have snapped photos of the creature along Interstate 75 in 2000, not far from Myakka River State Park and her own home.
The woman would send the photos to the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office with a note attached, telling authorities the animal had visited her backyard on consecutive nights and left apples on her porch each time. She believed it was an orangutan, while Big Foot seekers lost their minds for the photos, claiming it was the proof they needed.
The truth about the Skunk Ape is that as long as hard evidence doesn't exist, there is no truth. But, if you happen to be out and about one day, maybe hiking through the Big Cyrpess Swamp or the Myakka River State Park, and you suddenly smell something so awful that you can barely stand to breathe, you just may be in the presence of the Skunk Ape. Watch out!
Sign up for a free email subscription and get The Bradenton Times' Thursday Weekly Recap and Sunday Edition delivered to your email box each week at no cost.