Dave Shealy is on a mission to prove the existence of the so-called Skunk Ape which is considered to be the Everglades answer to Bigfoot, distinguished from its famous relative by its apparently distinctive, pungent scent. But is it really true that Shealy has a previously unresearched creature in his sights?
Shealy claims that his first encounter with the animal that would become his obsession was when he was a little boy walking the swamplands of the Everglades with his brother. His brother noticed the animal first and lifted Dave so that he could see it too. He describes the animal as looking exactly like a man but covered with hair. The two boys stayed to watch the animal but when rain started to pour down, the swamp-ape took flight and hurried into the cypress hummocks.
Since that day, Shealy claims that he has seen the creature three more times and has established elaborate research projects with a view to proving its existence to the world at large and set up the Skunk Ape Research Headquarters on his property where tourists are welcome to learn all about the mythical animal alongside Shealy who describes himself as the ‘Jane Goodall of Skunk Apes’.
Shealy says that local Native American folklore contains numerous references to the skunk ape suggesting that the elusive beast has a very long history in the region. The animal has also been spotted time and time again by a myriad of different people. In 1957, two hunters claimed that the animal invaded their camp which appeared to open the floodgates somewhat. Since then, there have been various reports of sightings at least once a decade. The stories even attracted the attention of the Florida legislature which proposed a bill in 1971 that would have made it illegal to ‘take, possess, harm or molest anthropoid or humanoid animals’. The bill did not pass.
These sightings are not enough for many biologists. “The empirical evidence is extremely weak, ” says Sharon Hill, a researcher, and columnist for the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, “It’s almost entirely eyewitness testimony, which is the most unreliable evidence you can have.” This opinion is shared by Bob DeGross, a public affairs officer in the Everglades who points out that National Park Service wildlife staff have never been able to substantiate a report and despite the presence of motion-sensitive cameras throughout the preserve, no footage has ever been captured of the animal.
Shealy brushes away this criticism, pointing out that the preserve is 2.2 million acres and that most of it is rarely visited by humans meaning that it is entirely possible that the skunk ape could keep itself safe from human eyes for years at a time. Furthermore, he says that he trusts his own experience. “I know what I’ve seen, ” he says. “For someone who hasn’t come here and put in the time to say otherwise doesn’t really matter to me.”
Back in July 2000, Shealy claimed to have captured video footage of the Skunk Ape. In the footage, the animal seems to emerge before becoming aware that it is being observed and makes a run for it into a grove of palm trees. Shealy estimates that the animal was running at 22 miles an hour which he says proves that it was definitely the animal and not a man dressed in a gorilla suit as some people have derisively claimed.
That the video footage was nothing more than a desperate hoax seems to be the prevailing view among biologists and other experts, and this may be the case, but does that mean that the skunk ape is definitely not real?
Throughout history, many creatures have been declared to be frauds or mythical stories before being proven to really exist. Such animals include the pelican, the antelope, the narwhal, the Komodo Dragon, the okapi, and the giant squid. Even in the twenty-first century, dozens of new species of mammals have been discovered. Could it be possible that the Skunk Ape could be one of these elusive animals that have managed to keep out of the way of human scrutiny for thousands of years? Perhaps so, and if it truly is real, Shealy is determined to be the man to prove it.