Legends of Florida’s Skunk-Ape have been popping up since the 1960’s. The Skunk-Ape, or Swamp-Ape is a hominid creature– like Bigfoot– rumored to roam the swamp lands of the Sunshine State known as the “Everglades”. The Skunk-Ape is a “cryptid” meaning it is an animal which has not been scientifically proven to exist. Other cryptids include: the previously mentioned “Bigfoot”, “The Loch Ness Monster”, “Chupacabra”, “The Jersey Devil”, “Mothman”, and many more. The “skunk” part of Skunk-Ape comes from the rancid smell the creature supposedly emits. Jack Shealy, Dave’s brother says “they hide in the air pockets of underground alligator dens, and their bodies absorb a lot of stinky methane.” Suggested in 1977, an official law was considered to protect the Skunk-Ape, but it didn’t quite squeeze past Florida’s legislator. The NPS (National Park Service) claims that the Skunk-Ape does not exist, but Dave Shealy, the self-proclaimed Skunk-Ape expert of Ochopee, Florida would say otherwise. “It looked like a man, but completely covered with hair.” says Shealy. Dave, who has been tracking the Ape all his life set up a small business around it. He calls the gift shop and information desk “Skunkape Headquarters”. As would be expected, there are Skunk-Ape skeptics. Some skeptics note that the Everglades are home to a primate breeding facility and that the most famous picture of a Skunk-Ape looks incredibly like a orangutan.
Some people say that leading expeditions in search of the elusive Skunk-Ape and firmly insisting upon it’s existence is Shealy’s way of rebelling against the government that created reserves out of previously wild swampland and directs visitors away from his business. Also, Shealy has some reoccurring traits that other cryptid believers exhibit, “…a distaste for authority, a rugged connection with the outdoors and a hearty sense of individualism and self-reliance.” writes Joseph Stromberg for Smithsonian.com. While this could be true, Shealy supposedly has good reason to feel rebellious. “My mom and dad worked hard for this place, and then the government built six campgrounds and instructed their employees to tell people not to come here. They just wanted us gone.” Says Shealy. Despite his current situation with the government, Shealy will most likely stay in the Everglades hunting down the Swamp-Ape until he finds it. He may never accomplish this, he might find the malodorous monkey tomorrow. Believers like Dave are hopeful, stubborn people, and are brave for challenging science, and the world. Or they just want to stir up confusion and chaos, and earn a buck in the process. All in all, a guy in a costume or not, the Skunk-Ape is still an important part of Ochopee history, and Dave Shealy.
Photo credits: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Myakka_skunk_ape_1.png