Excerpt from Visiting Small-Town Florida, 4th Edition “Ochopee Chapter”:
I first heard about the skunk ape when I was a kid, in the late 1960s – early 1970s. It was described as an ape-like animal that walked upright, and lived in the swamps, and was so named because reportedly you could smell him long before you saw him. There was some historical precedent: Seminole Indian folklore referenced a similar creature they called Esti Capcaki. No doubt, interest had escalated after the Patterson–Gimlin Bluff Creek, California bigfoot film footage came out in 1967, but the skunk ape was supposedly smaller than a bigfoot. Of all the mystery cryptid primate sightings, the skunk ape might actually be the most valid. Monkeys are spotted in the wild in Florida all the time. There was a monkey that lived in the trees on the creek that ran beside my childhood neighborhood that we all saw regularly for years. Through the1950s and 1960s roadside tourist attractions were commonplace in Florida, and caged animals were often the draw: bears, bobcats, monkeys, and yes, chimpanzees. Also, John Ringling had moved his entire Ringling Barnum & Bailey Circus operation from Bridgeport, Connecticut to Sarasota in 1927, where it still remains. Some of the animals from these places would escape occasionally, and Florida’s tropical climate and landscape made an ideal place for them to thrive and breed. Chimpanzees, their close cousin bonobos, and orangutans (all members of the great ape family) can grow to five feet tall. Chimps can reach one-hundred-fifty pounds and orangutans one-hundred-ninety pounds. And all three can and do walk upright. Interest in the Florida skunk ape had fizzled by the late 1970s, but re-energized briefly in 2000 when the Sarasota Sheriff’s Department received an anonymous letter and photographs purportedly taken near Myakka State Park southeast of Sarasota. The photos are relatively clear and show an upright hairy primate behind some palmetto bushes. Frankly, it looks a lot like an orangutan or a large chimp.
And now the skunk ape is back! With renewed bigfoot interest, sightings are happening again, and the Everglades has become a skunk ape hotspot. A little over a mile east of the Ochopee Post office, you’ll find life-long Everglades resident Dave Shealy’s Skunk Ape Research Headquarters, with everything “skunk ape”: books, videos, tee shirts. I love this place, and stop every time I drive by. Don’t be swayed by the touristy appearance. Dave is a serious skunk ape devotee—he tracks them, collects scat samples, and claims to have seen them on four occasions and photographed them twice.
Do I think the skunk ape exists? Well, I’ve never seen one, so I think the best I can say is that I hope so.
Visiting Small-Town Florida, 4th Edition available at your favorite local book store, or order online at: