When the word “Bigfoot” is mentioned in conversation, for most people it prompts imagery of gigantic, bulky, seven to eight feet tall, man-monsters roaming the frozen mountains and massive forests of the Pacific Northwest. Certainly, there’s no shortage of such reports. It should be noted, however, that – as incredible as it may sound – Bigfoot might not be the only cryptid ape that calls the United States its home. In Florida, and particularly so in the state’s swampy, wooded areas, there lives a beast known as the Skunk Ape. It’s a creature whose territory also includes Arkansas and North Carolina. It’s the wilds of Florida, however, where the beast really dominates.
There is a very good reason for suggesting that the Skunk Ape is a distinctly different creature to that reported on the west coast. Predominantly, it’s the difference in height and bulk that suggest the Skunk Ape and Bigfoot just might not be one and the same. Admittedly, an argument could be made that the radical differences in the terrain, temperatures, and food supplies in both locations has led to the development of a smaller form of Bigfoot in the Florida region, but, that, essentially, both animals are one and the same.
Confounding the matter even more, however, there is the fact that some reports of the creature are more befitting a description of the mammoth Bigfoot, as will soon become clear. Although there is no firm consensus on what the Skunk Ape is – Bigfoot or something else of a related nature – there is no denying the rich and diverse body of reports that exists on the creature. It’s important to note that sightings of the Skunk Ape can’t be blamed on the current craze for Bigfoot that exists today. Reports of the hairy, upright animal are nothing new. They date back decades.
A spate of Skunk Ape encounters occurred in Florida from the late 1970s to 1980. Take, for example, a certain case of early October 1977. A twenty-two year old man was hitchhiking on U.S. 441, around half a mile from the town of Belleview. It was an area noted for its light forestland, something which would have offered perfect cover for a Skunk Ape – and, just maybe it did exactly that. Until, however, it decided to make its presence known to the terrified man. It was the creature’s nauseating smell – they don’t call it the Skunk Ape for nothing – that first alerted the man to the fact that there was a wild animal in the area. He only realized just how wild when the hairy, dark and upright thing made a brief appearance, before vanishing into the woods.
Just a couple of days later, a security guard at a nursery in Apopka reported to the local police something that was both amazing and controversial: something resembling Bigfoot – with fur or hair of a grey-red color – attacked him violently and tore off his shirt! Donnie Hall said he let loose with his gun, but to no effect. Then there was the story of a Belleview welder who also the man-beast. He said: “I’m six feet tall and it was bigger than me. It smelled horrible, like garbage.”
Such was the local attention given to the sightings – by the populace, the press, and even the police – the Florida Game and Fresh Water Commission got involved. They even sent out one of their personnel to take a look at a line of tracks found at the Apopka nursery. The result was that the tracks appeared to be man-made. Of course, that, essentially, means nothing: if the Skunk Ape is a five-toed, bipedal animal – just like us – then they would look like human prints!
One month later, the Ocala National Forest was the site of a startling encounter with a Skunk Ape. The forest is the perfect terrain for cryptid apes to live and hide in: it runs to more than 600 square miles in size, is heavily and densely forested, and is filled with springs and swamps. And, for a large, aggressive, ape, there’s no shortage of potential food supplies in the Ocala National Forest. It is home to red foxes, raccoons, boar, deer, squirrels, opossums, and gophers.
The November 1977 case was reported by none other than a 67 year old Baptist minister, the Reverend S. L. Whatley, who was the pastor of the Fort McCoy Baptist Church. It was while he chopped wood on the fringes of the forest that Whatley caught sight of the creature. He said: “It was standing upright, in the middle of some palmetto bushes, and that sapsucker was at least seven and a half, maybe eight feet tall.” The Skunk Ape “had dark, lighter than black hair on its head and chest, not much on its arms, and none on its face. It had kind of a flat face, a flat nose, its eyes were sunk in its sockets.” Displaying what some might perceive as behavior not exactly befitting that of a Baptist minister, Whatley raced to his truck to grab his axe, as, in his own immortal words, “me and that creature was going to mix it up.” By the time Whatley returned from his truck, however, the monster was gone. His last words on the matter to the press: alcohol hadn’t touched his lips since the 1930s.
Three years later, in 1980, Altoona, Florida became the magnet for Skunk Ape enthusiasts. It so happens that Altoona is also dominated by the Ocala National Forest, where the Reverend S.L. Whatley almost mixed it up with a monster, a few years previously. It wasn’t a sighting of a Skunk Ape that caused so much commotion throughout town, but the discovery of gigantic, size eighteen footprints. Opinion was significantly divided on what the tracks showed. Doug Sewell was the chief investigator for the Lake County Sheriff’s department. He came straight to the point: “I think it’s a hoax. There was no indication that something that big enough to make those prints went back through the woods.”
Far less sure that hoaxing could explain away everything, was Lake County Sergeant Dee Kirby, who made casts of a number of the massive tracks. Not only did he say that they showed a definitive arching of the step and five toes, he added that there was even some wrinkling in the instep, all of which suggested the tracks were not made by something as down to earth as carefully carved “wooden feet.” Kirby also noted that: “The prints had a full four feet of distance between each of one.” This led Kirby to conclude that the creature had to have weighed somewhere in the region of 1,000 pounds and stood somewhere between ten and twelve feet in height! Not only does this suggest something somewhat different to the Skunk Ape; it also describes an animal far bigger than the average Bigfoot.
It is important to note that if the tracks were made by hoaxers, then the perpetrators chose the wrong place to make them. The site of the tracks was a remote area of the forest, and the only reason why they were found, at all, was because contractors working for the U.S. Forestry Service were in the area and stumbled on them. The affair was never resolved. Reports of the Skunk Ape continue to surface.