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Geographical Index > United States > Florida > Polk County > Article # 545

Media Article # 545


Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Skunk Ape of Florida

By Cinnamon Bair
The Ledger


Published: Sunday, October 28, 2007

'The Skunk Ape' of Florida
Cinnamon Bair

In other parts of the world he is known as Sasquatch, Big Foot, the Yeti.

Some say he's an animal. Others, a type of man-beast. Many doubt he exists. Some have no doubt that he does.

The Seminoles call him Esti Capcaki, but most Floridians know him as "the Skunk Ape." And he's sparked imaginations and debate for nearly two centuries.

"Florida's list of sightings nearly rivals that of the Pacific Northwest, where Bigfoot/Sasquatch has beguiled explorers and researchers since the early 19th century," Michael Newton wrote in "Florida's Unexpected Wildlife."

Skunk ape sightings in Florida date to 1818 when Apalachicola residents reported seeing "a 5-foot-tall 'baboon,' pursuing it to a makeshift nest amid cotton bales stored on the north side of town," Newton wrote.

Since that time, more than 350 skunk ape encounters have been reported throughout the state, including an estimated 10 encounters in Polk County.

What is the beast? Accounts vary, but witnesses usually describe an abnormally tall creature resembling a baboon, covered in hair and carrying with it a stupefyingly putrid smell.

"It's this skunk like stink that gives the skunk ape its name, although old-timers in rural areas often refer to it as 'swamp monkey,'" Charlie Carlson wrote in "Weird Florida."

In 1947, for instance, a large primate was reported in a Lakeland backyard.

"The lone witness, a boy four years old at the time, saw a hairy ape-like beast standing among some orange trees behind his home," Newton wrote. "Twenty years later, memories of the event were clear enough to persuade researcher John Green of the witness's sincerity."

Other reports are more substantial. In 1975, for instance, one Polk County man reported seeing a skunk ape carrying an armload of corn along a road. It was one of three skunk ape sightings reported in Polk that year, according to a statewide database maintained at www.skunkapefloridasbigfoot.com. Far more recently, Jennifer Ward of Polk County reported seeing a skunk ape along a rural Polk road not long after Hurricane Charley struck in 2004.

"I noticed something in the ditch. I looked over, and I guess it noticed me," Ward told the Orlando Sentinel that November. "When he saw me, he was as surprised as I was."

Scientific evidence of the creature is not known to exist; bones and other remains have never been found, Carlson wrote.

Nonetheless, after a spate of shootings at alleged skunk apes in the 1970s - the heyday of creature sightings - a Florida legislator attempted to impose a one-year jail term and $1,000 fine for anyone convicted of killing a skunk ape. The measure, sponsored by Paul Nuckolls (R-Fort Myers), failed when it was introduced in 1976 and again in 1977, Newton wrote.

And one Floridian, David Shealy of Collier County, has made a career of the skunk ape. He operates the Skunk Ape Research Headquarters as a type of tourist attraction in Ochopee south of Alligator Alley.

[ Cinnamon Bair is a Polk County native. She can be reached at cinbair@hotmail.com. ]


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