| Bigfoot Encounters
Florida Skunk Ape
Jerry Hill Outdoors "Stories of 'skunk apes' are dubious"
It's the middle of summer, and at least a portion of Manatee's outdoor families will be towing campers or travel trailers to the hammocks and backwoods or pitching tents therein, intent on spending a few days and nights in the hinterlands.
They should be aware that just as with the Tibetan Yeti or the Pacific Northwest's Sasquatch, imaginative souls in the Sunshine State have come up with their own mythical man/ape creature.
We call ours "skunk apes." Depending on who you are talking to or what condition the individual telling the tale is in, these critters can range from a fairly dwarfish 4 feet or so all the way to a towering 8 or 9 feet tall. Invariably, they walk erect, have shaggy rust-hued body hair and emit a horrible stench, hence the "skunk" portion of the name. Over the years, most of the tales regarding skunk apes have pretty well been centered in the Everglades and the adjacent Big Cypress Swamp. Of the various statements about these creatures, which stink on their own merits, the assertion that they live in the "caves" of the Glades pretty well takes the cake. In a part of the planet that is pool table flat and covered with a foot or so of water about 11 months out of the year, only crawfish or mussels could hole up in a cave. Since we were not shorted on our allowance of kooks and weirdos, it follows that Manatee would have an occasional skunk ape/human encounter.
The first of the recent sightings supposedly occurred where Sugar House Creek flows under Nashville Road (26th Avenue East) just east of Mixon Fruit Farms. On that particular night, as the story goes, a big hairy critter strode from north to south across the pavement about 1 a.m. This was witnessed by a local individual who had argued for their existence for months. (If you believe strong enough, you tend to see what you're looking for).
The second occurred where Lakewood Ranch is now located. Supposedly, a ranch hand got a glimpse, for a second or so, of a critter standing on a ditch bank roughly 75 yards away. The "creature" had a hairy torso and its hands were stretched over its head.
Consider that, in this particular case, the ranch hand was alone at 3 a.m. and a light fog was clouding his vision. I interviewed this man and am convinced he saw a frightened raccoon who threw itself erect in a defensive posture.
There is a second chapter to this particular tale: A little while later, the employee in question left the ranch. The rest of the crew pretty well looked upon the story as a fabrication. But one individual, a night watchman, took it to heart and was no longer willing to leave his pick-up's cab on his nightly rounds of the gates and fences. Some of his co-workers tuned into this phobia and placed a 4½-foot teddy bear on a gate at one of the big operation's more remote locations. Supposedly, when he threw a spotlight on the apparition in the wee hours of the night, he stomped on the accelerator; and, after distancing himself from the threat, cell-phoned the sheriff's office for backup.
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