Geographical Index > United States > Florida > Polk County > Article # 705
Media Article # 705
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
Swamp Ape Seeker’s Faith Holds Fast
By Geoff Fox
LAKELAND - Scott Marlowe thought he was being watched as he set up camp in a remote, marshy area of the Green Swamp.
"Could just be a pig," he said, scanning the dense woods.
To Marlowe, the familiar feeling was encouraging. He said he had experienced something similar 30 years earlier, when he first encountered a swamp ape - also known as a skunk ape, Florida's version of Bigfoot - outside his Lakeland apartment.
In Florida, tales of swamp apes are about as old as the Suwanee River. Likewise, around the world, stories of Bigfoot, Sasquatch, the Abominable Snowman and similar creatures have been passed down for centuries by indigenous tribes, settlers, hunters and others.
Some believe the stories. Many don't.
Then there's Marlowe, 55, of Winter Haven, who not only says he has seen swamp apes but spends his time looking for more.
On his recent outing in the Green Swamp - an expanse of nearly 50,000 acres in Polk, Lake and Sumter counties - Marlowe spent a week in an area northeast of Lakeland. His goal was to photograph or videotape a swamp ape, or at least collect evidence such as hair, footprints or DNA samples.
Joining Marlowe were students from an online course in cryptozoology - the study of mythic creatures such as Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster - that he teaches through Florida Keys Community College. Swamp ape enthusiasts from across Florida and elsewhere also made the trip.
To Lorena Madrigal, an anthropology professor at the University of South Florida, the group was wasting its time.
"There's no evidence of such an animal anywhere," she said. "There's no animal that looks like that: a hairy, hairy big ape that walks [on two legs].
"There are monkeys in the New World, but no apes. It would be very strange to find such a thing here."
Database Of Sightings
The naysayers don't faze Marlowe, who also is affiliated with the Pangea Institute, a nonprofit organization that arranges behind-the-scenes museum tours and organizes fossil digs and shipwreck expeditions. Pangea also maintains a database of about 180 swamp ape sightings in Florida, many of which Marlowe has investigated.
Based on a geographical pattern of those sightings, Marlowe, who doesn't hold a degree, concluded the creature - or a pack of them - would be migrating in early November through the Green Swamp en route to Big Cypress National Preserve, near the Everglades.
Using maps and data from a Global Positioning System and Geographic Information Systems, Marlowe thought he had found the right spot in the muggy marsh to find a swamp ape - a term he prefers to "skunk ape."
Marlowe had never heard of the creature before a night in October 1975. As he was unloading groceries from his car outside his Lakeland apartment, he said, he sensed he was being watched.
Looking up, he said he saw a hairy, roughly 7-foot-tall "man-ape" standing under a light across the parking lot. He said the creature watched him, then scanned the parking lot and apartments before leaving - on two legs.
Marlowe said his latest encounter happened one night in June while looking for swamp apes near Orange, Texas, with fellow researcher Chester Moore. He said they entered a swampy area near a cow pasture when they saw the creatures on infrared scopes.
"You could clearly smell them when we entered their domain," Marlowe said.
Besides Marlowe, there are several research organizations around the country that conduct searches for Bigfoot and swamp apes. Among the groups rages an argument over whether or not to kill one of the creatures.
While a swamp ape carcass would offer proof of the creature's existence, Marlowe opposes hunting them like game. He said he wouldn't be opposed to tranquilizing one, but he lacks the necessary state license and permit to do that.
Marlowe said he usually goes on at least four swamp ape expeditions a year, guided by reported sightings. Typically, between three and 12 people join him.
His cryptozoology course, which yields no academic credit, consists of a weeklong field study, including an orientation that explores theories about the existence and evolution of cryptids: animals not recognized by science, such as the swamp ape.
During last month's orientation, Marlowe told a group of about 15 people that, based on sighting reports, footprint casts and his own experiences, he believed Bigfoot and the swamp ape are different creatures.
He cautioned, though, that evidence must be viewed skeptically. He said foot casts can be easily faked; some supposed swamp ape pictures look like people in gorilla suits, while others are too unfocused to be considered credible.
"One woman thinks it moves around her back yard and disappears through an interdimensional window," he said.
Possible Nests Found
Joining Marlowe's group in the Green Swamp last month was Ken Gerhard, a devoted swamp ape searcher who spent about 15 years touring the United States with his band, Bozo Porno Circus.
The Houston man now tours remote parts of the world with kindred spirits in search of mysterious creatures.
In Australia, Gerhard has searched for the Yowie, the Down Under version of Bigfoot. He spent a few days in the Green Swamp on his way to Belize, where he planned to look for Sisemite, that country's version of the creature.
Gerhard brought with him a primate pheromone chip, a small red disk containing substances secreted by primates. The chip, which smelled worse than road kill, could attract a "great ape," he said.
Shortly after entering the woods, Gerhard found large branches in a crossing pattern covered with brush - a possible swamp ape nest, he said.
Gerhard's find was the first of several possible nests he and Marlowe said they discovered during the excursion.
However, after spending several hours a day among the mosquitoes, snakes and wild pigs, there were no swamp ape footprints to photograph and cast, no hair to collect and no possible DNA samples to lift from twisted branches, which swamp apes are said to break to mark their territory.
And despite his use of "trap cams" - cameras that automatically shoot when someone or something stands near them - the trip didn't produce a picture or video to prove the existence of a large, hairy primate living in the Florida wild.
Not that Marlowe was deterred.
He said there have been a rash of sightings around Tate's Hell State Forest, southwest of Tallahassee, where an expedition is pending, and Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area, near Holopaw.
"The Pangea Institute is developing a rapid-response team," Marlowe said. "Within 24 hours of a sighting, we want to have somebody on site.
"A hunter in Three Lakes was so scared that he just packed up and left."
And if he sees another swamp ape?
"I'll go right up to it and shake hands," Marlowe said. "I hope to make everyone a believer by finding one soon."
(CHART) SWAMP APES
To report a swamp-ape sighting, send e-mail to the Pangea Institute at cryptids@
The following are names of similar purported creatures around the world:
Big Gray Man, Scotland
Bossburg Giant, Washington state
Fouke Monster, Arkansas
Honey Island Swamp Monster, Louisiana
Kikomba, Zaire, Africa
Mogollon Monster, Arizona
Muhalu, West Africa
Orang Gugu, Philippines
Skookum, Washington state
Tano Giant, West Africa
Tree Eater, Finland and Croatia
Woods Devil, New Hampshire
Reporter Geoff Fox can be reached at (813) 948-4217.