In Search Of….The Skunk Ape

Originally Posted: 06 April 2010 at 3:47pm Ochopee, FL

Many people believe that the Sasquatch is a hoax or figment of people's wild imagination.  However, there has never been a valid deconstruction of the 1967 Patterson Film from Bluff Creek, CA which has long been considered as proof of its existence.  Here in south Florida, David Shealy has spent his entire life documenting the existence of the "Skunk Ape" in the Everglades region.  We plan on visiting with Mr. Shealy a little later this week to share experiences as well as to get his perspective on things.

In addition to our usual field efforts for birds and herps, my son Landon and I have begun a quest to help gather evidence of this bipedal hominid that is undoubtedly real, endangered and in need of protection.

We encoutered some interesting evidence down in Big Cypress country this morning and when I get a faster connection, I will add some photos to this thread, as well as further commentary. Stay tuned.

 
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UPDATE:  APRIL 14
 

There are any number of complexities to be considered carefully when planning an expedition to search for rare wildlife.  You must account for logistics, weather and any potential dangers you could encounter.  South Florida is a land of contrast.  Urban sprawl has taken over a vast majority of the region and condos, cropland and strip malls have encroached everywhere.  Yet, there still is some significant swaths of wilderness; habitat ranging from dense mangroves and tidal flats to old cypress swamp to sawgrass prairie which all comprise The Everglades. 

 

Driving across I-75 from Naples to Miami gives you an idea of how vast some of this wilderness still is.  There are protected areas within The Everglades, including Everglades National Park, Big Cypress National Preserve, Picayune State Forest, etc.  Native wildlife in south Florida is abundant and varied.  Cougars (“Florida Panthers”), Black Bear, American Alligator, American Crocodile, Indigo Snake, Snail Kite and Short-tailed Hawk are just a very few of the nifty natives of S. Florida.  Because of its sub-tropical climate, many non-natives have either become established or are on their way to becoming so.  Feral hogs and Burmese Pythons may be the most notorious but many reptiles like Green Iguana, Spectacled Caiman, Knight Anole, Nile Monitor and many others are on the loose and doing quite well. Many species of non-native birds are also present, though most of these are around towns and neighborhoods and not in the wilderness areas. 

 

Perhaps the least understood and rarest of all the native wildlife in South Florida is the Skunk Ape.  A bipedal hominid, covered in hair that is around 7 feet tall and between 350 and 450 lbs, the Skunk Ape is intelligent and elusive.  There are few experts on Skunk Apes but David Shealy has been studying them his entire life and has written a field guide to help researchers when they visit the region to search for these remarkable primates.  I was fortunate enough to meet Mr. Shealy at the National Skunk Ape Research Headquarters in Ochopee, FL last week and we discussed a variety of topics around the Skunk Ape including habitat preference, diet and behavior, as well as to review some interesting photographs taken over the years by people. 

 

My plan for the week was to cover ground in The Everglades, visiting all of the main habitats, except for some of the hard-to-reach hammocks.  First though, I needed to familiarize myself with some of the finer points of searching for the Skunk Ape.  For example, they like Lima beans and deer liver and some people have had success using these baits.  Skunk Apes will often utilize “alligator caves” in the dry season, so concentrating in and around those areas can be fruitful.  However, water levels were extremely high and made this tact impossible.  If not for the high water, I could have covered some more ground and perhaps gathered more evidence.  Snakes also like to hide in these caves though, so I would have had to have been extremely cautious.

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(Reading up on the Skunk Ape…this work is the Skunk Ape Researcher's "Bible")

 

While I covered what seemed like a tremendous amount of territory, when it boils down to it, you can only cover so much ground over the course of the week.  Here are just a few poor quality pics from my point-and-shoot from the Skunk Ape expedition:

 
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 While wandering through an old (abandoned?) worksite, we located a non-native Reticulated Python (this is different from the established Burmese), about 12 feet long.  This species, while not venomous, is NOT to be trifled with!!!
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(Red-shouldered Hawk – one of S. Florida's "dirt birds" – this one proceeded to catch a catfish which I thought was interesting)
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 (Wood Storks are just one species of wading birds that were negatively impacted by the high water levels.  Only about 4,000 wading bird nests were discovered on annual censuses this month, compared to over 40,000 at the same time last year.)

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 (The Burrowing Owl seems to have adapted fairly well to human habitation.  This one was near another work site at the edge of "The Bush")

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 (This Turkey Vulture was along an old two-track not far from the footprint site.  It was remarkably tame and made me wonder of one of the local "good ol boys" had trained it to come for scraps.)

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 (What would a Skunk Ape expedition be without at least 1 pic of a gator?  Here is the obligatory shot)

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 (Note the gator in the upper left.  The spoonbill was oblivious but I don't think the alligator was serious)

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(Yellow Rat Snake – smallish, only 4ft, but feisty so we placed him in the mesh net for photos)

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(Sandhills – also a dirt bird there – in some sawgrass prairie)

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(This was a really bizarre sea creature near some magroves in open water.  We dubbed it the "swimming burrito" – it was swimming with its flaps, suspended in the water fairly close to the surface.  Not a jelly – its body was more substantial, almost squid lilke.  My best guess is some species of sea cucumber??  Anyone know what this thing is?)

 

 

On my second to last day, while hiking a sandy palmetto/pine area watching for rattlesnakes (Diamondbacks and Pygmies are common) near the Picayune State Forest, I noticed a VERY interesting track.  In fact , I found several but only a couple were clear enough to easily discern the shape and size and also to photograph.  See below. 

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(Photo 1 of Footprint)
 
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(Photo 2 of footprint)
 
I took my rubber boot off to show a relative size comparison.  My foot is 12 inches long.  The tracks here indicate that whatever made them had feet approximately 18 inches long, and substantially wider than my foot. 
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Additionally, the depth of the footprint was approximately ½ inch, which the photographs do not reflect well.  I tried to imprint my footprint next to these and was only able to achieve that depth by moving my foot back and forth and side to side, essentially “digging” it out.  In other words, whatever made these footprints was very heavy.  It was an exhilarating moment to be sure, but frustrating at the same time.  The only conclusion that could be reached was that a Skunk Ape had walked through that area relatively recently – I estimate at some point within 12-36 hours from my discovery!  I looked for further evidence nearby – bones of an animal that had fallen prey, more footprints, broken branches, scat, etc…nothing.

 

For now, I have further experience and knowledge that will help me with next year’s expedition.  I am already looking forward to getting back to The ‘Glades.

-GL

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2 Comments on “In Search Of….The Skunk Ape”

  • paul balasch wrote on 7 September, 2011, 20:51

    where are you? i invite you to citrus county during the third week of october.

    there is a swift mud camp on the withlacoochee that is promising. the camp has a septic tank but no water and no electricity.

    balaschp@yahoo.com
    inverness, florida

  • Bullphysics wrote on 31 January, 2013, 0:17

    That strange creature may be a dumbo octopod. Pretty rare find! Very cool

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