Episode 33: From Where We're From: Skunk Ape, the Official Cryptid of Florida


Famous Fat Guy, Jacked Guy Preamble


This is kind of a combo episode. Somehow, September turned into Cryptid month over here at FGJG, and I think we would be remiss not to take advantage of the fact that in South Florida, we have a very famous cryptid of our own: the Skunk Ape.


Actually, I’ve learned this week that the Skunk Ape’s fame is kind of fading. This is very limited qualitative research here but I mentioned that we were doing this episode to our brother Vinny, a born and bred South Floridian and the official strength coach of Fat Guy Jacked Guy Podcast, and he thought I was making the Skunk Ape up on the spot. Then I asked around to other people in the gym and they also had no idea what I was talking about. It was a little shocking, I have to say, because to me, the Skunk Ape is one of the things that pops in my head when I think about how weird and wild it is down here.


I’ve known about the Skunk Ape since I was very little. It’s hard to remember exactly but I would put money on it being the first cryptid I ever knew. When I was growing up, my mom, my aunt, and my uncle exposed my brother, my cousin, and me to scary and spooky stuff sooner than I think most parents would. Looking back, I think they were determined to make it so we didn’t really fear much in our lives except for the things that are real and impossible not to fear as a human being. They took us on rollercoasters when we were way too young for them, and made us watch scary movies with them, especially when we were on vacation at a little place my grandparents used to own out in the woods of North Carolina. There were a lot of moments that we all joke about now where we were doing activities that might have killed one or all of us and somehow we still made it. As an adult who works with kids, I see the logic of it all but I also have no doubt that it somehow adds to our respective mental illnesses.


Among all the rest of the things they’d get us involved in, they were big storytellers. They loved to spin a yarn. And one of the stories that was always floating around was my mom’s supposed encounter with the Skunk Ape out in the Everglades.


I’ll tell the story as closely to the original way it was told to me back then right now. My mom and two of her friends were driving back really late at night from camping with their friends and boyfriends out in one of the campgrounds in the preserve. This was in the very early 1980s, and back then, I-75, or Alligator Alley as we all call it, wasn’t as developed as it is now. It was a road, for sure, but it wasn’t as nice as it is now and there were whole swaths of it that didn’t have any blockades between the road itself and the actual landscape of the Everglades. This is part of the reason why it got the nickname Alligator Alley…so much wildlife would end up on the road or crossing the road, including alligators. So, back to my mom and her friends…they’re driving down this road late at night, no cell phones, no call boxes, barely any lights, and the worst possible thing you can imagine happening in this scenario happens: they get a flat tire. The three of them, being boomer women who weren’t encouraged to learn shit about their cars and what not, are obviously terrified but they know they have a spare and the tools to change the tire, so they get out to try to figure it all out. Again, in the dark. They’re working on it and it seems like they’re getting, when out of the corner of my mom’s eye, she spots a dark figure running from behind some brush to behind some other brush that’s a little closer to where they’re stopped. Her and her friends immediately noticed a change in the smell of the air where they are. It stinks out of nowhere. They start asking each other if one of them farted and laugh about it but then they hear sounds from the bushes not too far away from them. They get quiet and so do the bushes. They’re freaked out, and my mom’s friend kind of instinctively just picks up one of the tools they were using and starts banging it on the ground and screaming her head off. I guess in an attempt to scare whatever they thought it was out there. At this point, my mom sees the shadowy figure again but heading in the direction opposite of where they were. They get the spare on and head out. Obviously, after this, they tell the story to everyone they know and everyone was like “Holy shit, it was the Skunk Ape.”


Fast forward like 25 years and my mom’s telling my brother and me this story as we’re driving across Alligator Alley on a little trip of our own. I was immediately intrigued because I’ve always loved this shit, but I was also scared as hell because to me, the Everglades is my backyard. It’s right there. In my young brain, I’m thinking…I have no idea what the Skunk Ape’s intentions were that night my mom claims to have seen it, but it could be anything…maybe it eats people or maybe it was scared so it’s plan was to attack and neutralize what it thought was an enemy. I thought about the Skunk Ape making it to our neighborhood in Ft. Lauderdale, and the unknown factors of the whole thing scared the shit out of me. So, I honestly tried my best not to think about it, even when I was interacting with other cryptozoology things. It was way too close, and I didn’t want to deal with it.


But you know, as I got older that changed. And the Skunk Ape has kind of become, like I said, one of those things that is weird about South Florida that I love to talk about. I don’t know if it’s real or not, it probably isn’t, but like we said in the episode on lake monsters…I don’t think any of that matters. It’s very real to people here, and I respect how steadfast they are in their beliefs and how enthusiastic they are about its existence. So, let’s get into this legend, this myth, the story of this wonderful creature.


Everglades Fact Blast 5000


I think it’s important, especially for our listeners who have never been to Florida or have never really cared about it, to understand the geography of the place in order to fully grasp the story of the Skunk Ape.


People usually think of the Everglades as a swamp but actually, it’s a slow-moving river flowing over an area 40 miles wide by 100 miles long, from the south shore of Lake Okeechobee to the mangrove estuaries of Florida Bay. We’re thought to think of it as a subtropical wetland because even though it is a river, there are lots of areas of varying depths and there are spots that we would think of as islands all over. Before we fucked it up, the Everglades encompassed most of the state…over 4,000 square miles of land. Development and drainage has significantly cut this down to about half that size but I don’t know, man, 2200 square miles is still huge. Or at least, it really feels that way when you’re there.


The Everglades is home to endangered, rare, and exotic wildlife living on over 1.5 million acres of saw grass marshes, mangrove forests, and hardwood hammocks. There are 300 fish species, 50 reptilian species, 360 avian species, and 40 mammalian species out there. There’s also a ton of invasive species living in the Everglades as a result of Florida’s role in the black market international exotic animal trade, so they’re out there, too. That’s a ton of fucking creatures.


Prior to colonization by white Europeans, the areas in and around the Everglades were inhabited mostly by the Seminole, Miccosukee, and Tequesta nations. In order to survive in this environment, they had a ton of significant adaptations in their lifestyles and the ways they developed their communities. We don’t have time to get into all of that right now, but this is just to say that the remaining members of Seminole and Miccosukee nations are the greatest stewards of the Everglades and they know how to best take care of it.


Parts of the Everglades are not really accessible to humans for a variety of reasons, mostly because the plants out there generally want to kill you and swallow your body whole. Have you ever touched saw grass before? That shit sucks! And the motherfuckers can grow to be 7 feet tall. I don’t think I need to say this but there could easily be other shit out there that we don’t know about. Like the depths of the ocean, I don’t think we’ll ever fully know what’s going on out there, though we keep trying to. When you think about it like this, it’s not hard to see how or why the myth of Skunk Ape developed down here.


OK, let’s talk Skunk Ape


Stories of non-human, ape-like hominids are not uncommon around the world. We have the most famous ones like Bigfoot or the Yeti, and the Skunk Ape is very similar to these guys. The Skunk Ape is usually described as a bipedal ape-like creature, approximately 5–7 feet tall, and covered in mottled reddish-brown hair. You can see from the description that it’s a lot smaller than Bigfoot or the Yeti…a little more manageable in terms of what might happen if you did come across a Skunk Ape in the wild. The biggest difference between the three of them, though, is that the Skunk Ape fucking STINKS. Brother, it’s SMELLY, ok? That’s why it’s called the Skunk Ape because it smells like absolute garbage. According to reports, you can usually smell it before you see it.


As I said earlier, the Seminole and Miccosukee people were the original stewards of this land, and they also did have their own stories of a creature called the Esti Capcaki, a name which roughly translates to "Furry Tall Man" or "Hairy Giant". So, the idea of the Skunk Ape isn’t technically a colonizer invention, though it is mostly people who are not Seminole or Miccosukee keeping the Skunk Ape myth alive today.


According to Smithsonian Magazine, stories of the Skunk Ape have been recorded in Florida, Georgia, and Alabama folklore since European settlers first occupied these areas. The first publicized sighting happened in 1818, when local newspapers reported a story from what is now Apalachicola, Florida, that spoke of a "man-sized monkey" raiding food stores and stalking fishermen along the shore. Then, according to the Florida Keys Weekly Newspaper, in 1929, a sighting happened at the then recently constructed Perky Bat Tower in the Florida Keys. The people there reported that an ape-like beast was drawn to the construction site. After inspecting the bat tower shortly after it had been stocked with bats, the creature shook the tower, driving off the bats before running off into the woods.


From there, the sightings continued of course….


In 1942, a man in Suwanee County reported a similar creature rushing out from the brush line while he was driving down an isolated road. It was alleged to have grabbed onto his vehicle and beat on the running board and door for half a mile before departing.[17] In the small community of Bardin, in Putnam County, Florida, beginning in the 1940s, there were a number of alleged sightings of a creature that came to be known as the Bardin Booger.[18] In the 1960s, a rash of sightings in central Florida happened around Alachua County and Marion County. One such report from 1963 involved several members of a family encountering an ape-like creature around their rural home, including one instance of it approaching a window to peer inside at night. [19]


According to the Bigfoot Researchers Organization, which is…a real thing. You can check out their website at bfro.net, it’s incredible, reports of the Skunk Ape were common in the Everglades of South Florida in the 1950s and 1970s. From 1971 to 1975, a rash of sightings occurred in Broward County, Florida and surrounding areas. Multiple eyewitnesses reported nocturnal encounters with a 5 to 7 foot (1.5-2.1 meter) ape creature with dark red to black fur. These events were heavily covered in newspapers, both local and in other Florida cities such as Miami, and were some of the earliest instances popularizing the term "Skunk Ape" in the state lexicon. The Skunk Ape was reported as invading houses, stalking pedestrians, and killing several of a farmer's livestock such as a horse and bull. The local police department got involved after one Deputy reported striking the Skunk Ape with his car, with said car suffering heavily damage allegedly in retaliation. Posses were created and hunted wilderness on multiple nights, but despite several witnesses reportedly firing upon the creature, no body or evidence was found. [22]


The Skunk Ape sightings got so wild that in 1977, a failed-to-pass bill was proposed to the Florida state legislature to make it illegal to "take, possess, harm or molest anthropoids or humanoid animals".


Really wild.


And all of this just really brings us to where this has been going all along…


You can’t talk about Skunk Ape without talking about Dan Shealy


Who’s Dave Shealy? Dave Shealy is a true Florida cracker. The guy’s been here forever, and he’s part of the reason why the Skunk Ape myth still lives so large in the storied history of South Florida.


Dave’s story goes like this…in 1974, Dave was 10 years old, and he says he saw a skunk ape when he was out deer hunting with his older brother, Jack, in the piece of Everglades behind his house, in what’s now Big Cypress National Preserve.


In an interview from 2014, Dave described the experience: “It was walking across the swamp, and my brother spotted it first. But I couldn’t see it over the grass—I wasn’t tall enough. My brother picked me up, and I saw it, about 100 yards away. We were just kids, but we’d heard about it, and knew for sure what we were looking at. It looked like a man, but completely covered with hair.”


Since then, Dave has become “an expert in Skunk Ape studies.” Literally, he calls himself the Jane Goodall of Skunk Apes. He’s only seriously hunted them three times in his life, but he’s written a field guide, made TV appearances, continually investigated reported sightings and established a Skunk Ape Research Headquarters out in Ochopee, which is smack dab in the middle of Big Cypress National Preserve. The website Bigfootlunchclub.com quotes him as saying “I am the expert, the state and county expert on the Florida skunk ape, and have been for years.”


Dave really rose to prominence in the cryptozoology world when he captured some grainy ass footage of the Skunk Ape back in 2000. Of course, this footage is available on YouTube since Dave is meticulous in his record keeping and in making his archives available to the public online. The video is described as being shot from like 100 feet away and it looks that way when you watch it. In it, you can see something that looks like how the Skunk Ape is described hanging out in a hummock of palm trees. It starts walking across the open land there and then breaks into a run out of nowhere. Dave says it was running at about 22 miles an hour, which humans can’t do.


It won’t be shocking when I tell you that even though Dave continues to collect “evidence”...no one fuckin believes him. Not even in the cryptozoology world. Which I have to admit, makes me kinda sad. Sharon Hill, a researcher and columnist for the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry who’s written about Bigfoot, the skunk ape and other mythical creatures is quoted as saying: “The empirical evidence is extremely weak. It’s almost entirely eyewitness testimony, which is the most unreliable evidence you can have.”


Regardless, people are still taken by the Skunk Ape, and sightings continue. According to bfro.net, forty-eight out of sixty-seven counties in Florida have reported sightings since 2010, which is wild. And you can visit Dave’s place out in Ochopee anytime. There’s also been a ton of articles published in the last seven years on the Skunk Ape and on Dave, so the legend is alive and well.


Skeptical investigator Joe Nickell has written that some of the reports may represent sightings of the American black bear, possibly some suffering from mange, and it is likely that other sightings are hoaxes or general misidentification of wildlife.[31] The United States National Park Service considers the skunk ape to be a hoax.[32]


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