Tracking the Florida Skunk Ape: Mysterious Myths and Elusive Sightings

Known as the Sasquatch of the Southeast, the Florida Skunk Ape is nothing to sniff at. In fact, we recommend nose plugs. Want to know more? Read on.

5 June 2024

While Sasquatch roams the Pacific Northwest, the Southeastern US has its very own legendary huge hairy monster. Its name? Well, it’s had several, including Swampsquatch, the Myakka Skunk Ape, and Sarasota Skunk Ape. Although most call it simply the Florida Skunk Ape.

But whatever the moniker, all the reports seem to agree on one thing: Florida’s Bigfoot stinks. Literally. What kind of stench does this giant cryptid emit? That’s just one of the answers we’re sniffing out. So read on for all the details.

What is the Florida Skunk Ape?

What's lurking in the Everglades? (Credit: Kevin Fleming via Getty Images)

Some say that the Florida Skunk Ape is the Southeast’s answer to Bigfoot. And indeed, it’s said to share many visual similarities with its Northwestern cryptid cousin. For starters, both are supposedly bipedal, human- or ape-like beasts covered in dark reddish-brown hair. And both are large, although Bigfoot slightly bigger, its height estimates reaching up to nine feet to Skunk Ape’s seven. What’s more, skunk apes purportedly live in swamps as well as forests. But the characteristic that truly sets Florida’s Bigfoot apart is its infamous smell. Or, more specifically, its stench, which puts the “skunk” in Florida Skunk Ape and is often described as a mix between the stink emitted by the aforementioned malodorous mammal and wet dog, rotten eggs, or roadkill.

So, where and when has the Florida Swamp Ape been seen? Because make no mistake, while it’s been reported in places like Georgia and Alabama, it seems to favour the Sunshine State, and especially the Everglades. Let’s start with the earliest known sightings.

Florida Swamp Ape Early Sightings

Artist impression of a sasquatch or bigfoot (Credit: David Wall via Getty Images)

Florida’s skunk ape has formed part of the tapestry of US folklore since at least the 1970s, although there are unsubstantiated claims of sightings from 1818 onwards. In fact, there seem to be stories for every decade. Among the most famous are a 1942 story of one such beast charging at a car and two hunters who saw one in 1957. It’s also been said that there are indigenous legends of a “hairy giant,” but, again, there’s no documentation to support this. On the other hand, there are plenty of newspaper accounts in the first half of the 1970s of alleged encounters with what was then known as the Everglades Skunk Ape.

Hitting the Headlines

Big Cypress National Preserve (Credit: Mark Newman via Getty Images)

In August of 1971, several news outlets reported that an armed search party had assembled to hunt for two large ape-like creatures that had scared some children at a trailer park in Broward County.

In 1974, a 10-year-old out hunting with his dad in what would become Big Cypress National Preserve saw a creature that “looked like a man, but completely covered with hair.” The boy, Dave Shealy, would become a self-proclaimed “state and county expert on the Florida Skunk Ape,” dedicating his life to seeking out the creature and founding the Skunk Ape Research Headquarters.

Finally, over several months in 1977, a man and his son in Key Largo reported startling a Skunk Ape that “had a huge head and shoulders, long fur all over, and he stunk like a dirty wet dog. The noise he made was a high pitched wailing noise.”

Worldwide Attention

The abominable snowman? (Credit: VICTOR HABBICK VISIONS/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY via Getty Images)

Between 1997 and 1998, the Florida Swamp Ape became big news, not just within the state or even the US, but worldwide. According to a BBC article from the time, several tour groups reported seeing “a seven-foot-tall gorilla-like creature said to resemble the legendary Abominable Snowman” within Big Cypress National Preserve. Of course, the same article made mention of the cryptid’s infamously “appalling smell.”

Video Footage

Sunrise over the Myakka River (Credit: Troy Harrison via Getty Images)

With so many sightings, one might wonder if any witnesses have managed to capture Florida’s Bigfoot on film. In fact, there have been both videos and photos purporting to do so. In July 2000, Dave Shealy released a video apparently showing a creature walking through a swamp before running away. As previously mentioned, Shealy had first seen a Florida Skunk Ape in the 1970s and has claimed several subsequent sightings.

Another video was released in March of 2013 by a man called Mike Falconer. Falconer said he had been in Myakka River State Park when he shot the footage.

Myakka Skunk Ape Photos

Was the visitor an orang utan? (Credit: Richard McManus via Getty Images)

Just before the Christmas of 2000, the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office received an anonymous delivery with an unsigned note, reading:

“Enclosed please find some pictures I took. My husband thinks it is an orangutan. Is someone missing an orangutan?”

The two photographs depicted what appeared to be a hairy beast the author said had repeatedly visited her back porch to steal apples. These images would come to be known as the Myakka Skunk Ape or Sarasota Skunk Ape photos, based on the writer citing her location as east of Sarasota, which is home to the Myakka River and the Myakka State Park.

Theories and Explanations

Artist's illustration of a cryptid (Credit: David Wall via Getty Images)

As we’ve seen, there are numerous eyewitness accounts of the skunk ape as well as what is claimed to be both video and photo evidence. So, is this enough to confirm its existence? Not according to the scientific community. For one thing, eyewitness accounts are notoriously unreliable and none of the sightings are considered verified or substantiated by the National Park Service. Furthermore, doubt has been cast on the reliability of the photos and footage, especially given its unclear, often grainy quality and distance from the subject.

Meanwhile, experts point to the fact that no remains of a skunk ape have ever been found. Some see this as unusual over such a lengthy period of time, but others argue that this is not completely unthinkable. For one thing, the Everglades covers a vast area of roughly 1.5 million acres, much of which is remote. Then there’s the fact that any remains would decompose swiftly in its swamps. Nevertheless, without this sort of proof, there are many theories as to the Florida Swamp Ape, among them:

Fabrication or Hoax

From digitally manipulated photos to a man in a gorilla suit, there are many ways in which evidence could be faked. Many consider this the most likely explanation.

Other Animals

Could the sightings be a case of mistaken identity? Some argue that an American black bear, possibly suffering from mange, could have been misidentified. Then there’s the possibility of a real ape. In fact, Florida’s climate is ideal for non-human primates, making it home to several primate-breeding centres, including one for bigger apes around 160 miles north of the Everglades. The Sarasota Skunk Ape could, therefore, be an escapee from one such sanctuary, a situation which has occurred in the past.

New Species

Some would argue cryptids are just species we have yet to identify. And there are plenty of those. In fact, scientists have only categorised around 1.9 million of a possible range of between 10 and 50 million plant and animal species. So is it possible the Myakka Skunk Ape is a new discovery in the making?

The Mystery Endures

Bigfoot sign (Credit: pabradyphoto via Getty Images)

The legend of the Florida Skunk Ape, or Florida’s Bigfoot, remains an intriguing mystery. From early sightings in the 1940s to worldwide attention in the late 1990s, this elusive creature has captivated the imagination. Despite video and photo evidence, the scientific community remains sceptical, often attributing sightings to hoaxes or mistaken identity. Whether a real creature or a product of folklore, the Florida Skunk Ape continues to be a fascinating part of the state’s cryptid history.


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