Apparently, Floridians aren’t content to adopt the name that has been popular around the rest of the country to describe our elusive hominid. Instead of Bigfoot or Sasquatch, the creatures down here have even more colorful names: the local Native American tribes have called them Shaawanoki long before Florida was inhabited by white settlers, but they are widely known nowadays as Skunk Apes, Swamp Monkeys, “Old Harry”, Wild Man, “Fairvilla Gorilla” or the “Bardin Booger”. (Obviously, some of those names are localized. ) The basic descriptions, however, are fairly consistent: apelike, bipedal creatures ranging anywhere from six feet to eight feet tall and emitting a noxious stench likened to decomposing meat, rotten eggs, or the musk of a skunk (understandable for a fur covered animal in such hot, humid conditions!). The color of the animals vary from red, reddish brown, to black or gray and even, rarely, white.
Reports of the Skunk Ape range throughout Florida. Indeed, if you visit the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization’s regional sighting report listing for Florida: http://www.bfro.net/GDB/state_listing.asp?state=fl, you will clearly see that most of the counties in Florida have had at least a handful of sightings, many of them very recent. I happen to live near the most active area in Florida (according to the BFRO website’s reports), which is in Collier County…an area known to the world as the Everglades. Logically, we can figure that the reason the Everglades are so rich in Bigfoot sightings is because it’s a huge wilderness area largely uninhabited by people. Many people don’t realize that the Everglades isn’t entirely waterlogged, but an extensive portion of it is traversable. In the Everglades there are plentiful food sources for the Skunk Ape such as deer, hog, wild turkey (the fowl, not the liquor! LOL!), raccoons, opossums, rodents, and recently, monitor lizards, iguanas, boas and pythons, to name but a few of the exotic species that roam our endangered habitat (thanks to irresponsible pet owners who no longer had the inclination to care for their animals and decided the Everglades would be a good environment for them).
Bigfoot, or Skunk Apes, don’t appreciate when humans intervene in their territory (can’t blame them) and they express this displeasure by trying to intimidate the interlopers, to convince them to move on. Hunters and hikers who have camped in the woods or among the sawgrass of the Everglades have reported being stalked by creatures who follow them, just out of sight, but not out of hearing. The creatures have been reported to charge through the high grass, only to veer off at the last minute, leaving the witness shaken and unsure of what was just menacing them. Footprints have, of course, been reported…sometimes evidence has been found of large, bipedal creatures circling camps during the night. Rocks and branches are thrown at campers, and unnerving growls and howls have been heard repeatedly. The only largish creatures, beside deer, that are acknowledged to live in Florida are bear and the Florida panther, neither of which are known to throw rocks, or run for long distances on two feet.
In the book, Weird Florida by Charlie Carlson, there are several pages dedicated to retelling some of the state’s oddest Skunk Ape sightings. In the 50’s, three boyscouts fled in fear from their campsite in Ocala National Forest after being harassed by a large, hairy creature with a “human face and the body of an ape”. Mind you, this was over a decade before the Patterson Gimlin film made Bigfoot a national conversation piece. The year before Roger Patterson and Robert Gimlin filmed their Bigfoot at Bluff Creek in California, a female motorist in Florida told of changing a flat tire on a rural road near Brooksville, when a large, hairy, apelike creature came and sat in the road a distance away, observing her. The animal only left when the approach of another car scared it away. In 1971, a group of amateur archaeologists claimed they had a nighttime run in with a light colored or whitish Bigfoot while they were camped out near an Indian mound they were excavating in the Big Cypress Swamp.
In Florida, the locals say you’re never far from a beach no matter where you are in the state. I say the same thing about Skunk Apes….no matter where you are in the state, you’re never that far from one of these elusive creatures. Two of my favorite reports of Skunk Ape sightings take place on the coast. One involved a professor who had a good minute long look at a Skunk Ape before it walked across the road and disappeared into the salt marshes of Pasco County on the Gulf of Mexico. The other concerns a husband and wife who spotted a Bigfoot walking down the beach, partly in the surf, while the two of them were out for a romantic nighttime seaside stroll in New Smyrna Beach. There was also a sighting by another witness further along the east coast when he was out in his boat fishing and saw a Bigfoot on the shore, presumably looking for crabs, just a hundred or so yards away. The thing realized it was being watched and walked up and over a sand dune, out of sight. These three stories go to show that it’s not just the humans in Florida who enjoy the salt life!
And so, in Weird Florida, we’re not so different than our fellow countrymen in Northern California, Oregon and Washington, or indeed, pretty much every state in the country except Hawaii. Shaawanoki is out there, our residents are witnessing them, and it is just a matter of time before mainstream science sits up and recognizes the fact!