Florida has its own Bigfoot, because of course it does. It isn’t uncommon for different regions around the world to have myths surrounding a Bigfoot-type creature, but leave it to Florida to have a Sasquatch that only lives in their state. It is known as the Skunk Ape, which is an appropriately gross name for a swamp-dwelling cryptid. 

In its appearance, the Skunk Ape looks about how you’d expect from a Bigfoot. It’s covered in hair and walks on two legs, and most accounts of it claim it’s about seven feet tall and up to 500 pounds.  The “Skunk” part of its name comes from its most noticeable identifying trait: its horrible smell. It lives in the Florida Everglades, an appropriately swampy territory for such a cryptid. 

Sarasota Florida Police Department

Skunk Ape or typical Florida Man?

The origins of the Skunk Ape, at least according to true Skunk Ape believers, go back to indigenous beliefs. Seminoles had legends of the Esti Capcaki, the “Tall Man” who would later earn the less flattering title of the Skunk Ape. Its recent popularity really took off starting in the 1970s, probably not coincidentally at the same time as Bigfoot had gotten attention with things like the famous 1967 Patterson-Gimlin film. After an increase in sightings, there was even an attempt in 1977 to legally protect the Skunk Ape. Shockingly, this did not pass. 

Today, the legend is largely kept alive by one Skunk Ape evangelist: Dave Shealy. A lifelong resident of the area, Shealy first encountered the cryptid as a young boy. He subsequently had a few other Skunk Ape sightings, one of which he even captured on film in 2000.

Now, that footage may look mostly like a man in an ape costume … there’s no other part to that sentence. That’s exactly what it looks like. 

Regardless, Shealy owns and operates the Skunk Ape Research Headquarters in Ochopee, Florida. This attraction, which is surely the finest research center in Ochopee, features “evidence” of the Skunk Ape’s existence, including footprints. Visitors can get tours from Dave Shealy himself and can even camp out in the Everglades.

This is a point that Skunk Ape skeptics, and more specifically, Dave Shealy skeptics, often focus on. Shealy’s property, which includes the campgrounds and the research center, is located near Big Cypress National Preserve, which Shealy views as a major competitor. While Shealy’s dedication to the Skunk Ape has lasted way too long to just be considered a grift, some critics have pointed out that Shealy has struggled to compete with the National Preserve, and it’s not too far-fetched to see how he would use the Skunk Ape lore as a way to maintain relevance. 

Outside of Shealy, though, what draws people to believe in the Skunk Ape? Again, there have been Skunk Ape sightings beyond Shealy’s totally real footage. These might be explained by the prominence of ape populations (no seriously) in the region, especially sanctuaries that house orangutans. People may have spotted an escaped orangutan, and because there typically aren’t orangutans in Florida, their brains filled in the rest of the details to convince them that what they saw was actually the Skunk Ape. This would fit in with reasons cited for why people believe in cryptids, as people don’t want to think that they’re “crazy,” so they believe in a cryptid to back up what they believe they saw.

Regardless of whether the Skunk Ape is a hoax meant to attract tourists to a specific campground or a misinterpreted orangutan, the cryptid truly embodies the strangeness of Florida.

Top Image: Sarasota Florida Police Department

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