As far back as the 1920s, wildlife trappers and fishermen whispered stories of sighting a 7-foot-tall, ape-like bipedal creature lurking in the swamps of Florida. One such sighting was reported at Quednau Ranch, Charlotte County, when a Boy Scout Troop was camping in the area on August 15, 1962 (The incident wasn’t reported until years later, though.) The number of sightings picked up through the 70s and 80s and now total 328, according to The Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization, bfro.net. By then, the creature had a name: Skunk Ape.
The Pensacola News (August 9, 1971) issue carried the story of H.C. Osbon. H.C. and 4 friends were in the Big Cypress Swamp, officially known as the Big Cypress National Preserve, digging for Native Indian artifacts. At 3 AM, the men were inside their tents when they heard a noise. They decided to investigate and saw a 7’ 700-pound creature. The next morning, they found tracks measuring 17 ½ inches. They made plaster molds. From the tracks, Osbon theorized there were at least three apes. The article concluded with Osbon vowing to return for more evidence.
By 1974, Skunk Ape fever was spreading, and people were venturing into the swamp to catch a glimpse. One such person was then 10-year-old Dave Shealy. He and his brother, Jack, were able to spot one standing 100’ away. Dave had found his passion; he would build a career around the Skunk Ape.
Ochopee (pronounced “O-Chopp-ee”) sits at the intersection of US 41 and State Road 29 within the Big Cypress Swamp, a 720,000 acre federally protected preserve established on October 4, 1974. Ochopee is in unincorporated Collier County. Big Cypress sits within 3 counties: Collier, Monroe, and Miami-Dade. Ochopee is also home to Shealy’s Skunk Ape Research Headquarters, located at 40904 Tamiami Trail E., Ochopee, Florida.
The Seminole and Miccosukee Indian tribes traveled and resided within this area. They also tell tales of the Skunk Ape, although he is known by several names: Skunk Ape, Swamp Ape, Bigfoot, Sasquatch, and the Florida Yeti. Skunk Ape is the one that stuck. It is said that the name refers to the strong odor, presumably sweat and animal carcass, exuding from the creatures.
Stories continue, as do the descriptions. In 1997, Jan Brock, local realtor, and Vince Doerr, Chief Ochopee Fire Control District, individually spotted a bipedal creature. Doerr was able to capture the creature on film. Both described a 7-foot, red-haired creature possibly weighing around 400 pounds. It is also reported that the creatures only have 4 toes per foot.
According to Dave Shealy, the apes eat conch, little lobsters, and lima beans.
The non-stop building in Florida may be encroaching on the natural habitat; therefore, the cryptids may be heading into the larger swamps, where they can hide—possibly inside alligator holes—and avoid humans. Air boats have made it easier for humans to go out in search of the apes. To date there have been 325 sightings in Florida. Although there isn’t definitive evidence, such as a carcass, this does not necessarily make the Skunk Ape a figment of people’s imaginations. It certainly hasn’t curbed the interest in sighting such creatures.