The vast Everglades covering southern Florida are, for the most part, open wilds. Yes, there are cities on its edges and a few rough roads cutting through it, but the majority of the “Sea of Grass” is undeveloped, natural sawgrass marsh, palmetto brush, and hardwood hammocks filled with alligators, gars, black bears, wading birds, and perhaps a few undiscovered primates.
For decades folks have been sighting hairy bipeds wandering the Glades. These creatures are commonly called Skunk Apes due to their distinctively pungent odor. They are said to have black to reddish-brown fur and may sometimes have a greenish tinge due to algae growth.
Tales of skunk apes allegedly go back to pre-colonial Native legends- though as is often the case, the existence of these “legends” is suspect and might just be an invention of modern folks to add some historical weight to their sightings. Regardless, sightings of the creature really took off in the early 1960s around the time that sightings of Bigfoot were becoming more common in the Pacific Northwest. One of the first major encounters with skunk apes occurred around 1966 when several gorilla-like creatures invaded the community of Holopaw, forcing open garage doors and frightening people.
Interest in skunk apes grew greatly throughout the 1970s, to the point that a bill making it a misdemeanor to harm or harass the creatures was drafted by State Representative Paul Nuckolls in 1977. The bill never made it to committee, sadly.
In 2000, several night-time photographs of a hairy, ape-like beast were sent to the Sarasota County Sherriff’s Office. An anonymous letter included with the photos described the creature as an “orangutan”, but many folks came to the conclusion that the being was a skunk ape. Skeptics, however, claim that the creature may be merely a person in a suit.
If skunk apes are real, it’s possible they are part of the group of southern “swamp apes” which are lighter, smaller- and smellier- than their sasquatch cousins. Swamp apes are also often reported to have only three toes on their feet and three fingers on their hands, though alleged casts of skunk ape footprints show them with four toes. As their name suggests, swamp apes are typically found near wetlands as opposed to the drier old-growth forests that bigfeet seem to prefer.
Folks wanting to learn more about Florida’s mystery primates should check out the Skunk Ape Research Headquarters, run by Dave Shealy and located in Ochopee along the Tamiami Trail right in the middle of the Everglades.
The Field Guide to North American Monsters by W. Haden Blackman