Bigfoot Encounters

Skunk ape: Shealy claims to have new photos of elusive legend

Saturday, September 12, 1998
By Michael McCormack, Staff Writer

Dave Shealy took a photo of what he says is a skunk ape scampering through the Everglades. Photo courtesy of Dave Shealy Business at the Florida Panther Gift Shop on U.S. 41 in Ochopee and owner Dave Shealy has once alleged to have spotted the elusive skunk ape.

Shealy, who claims to be the proprietor of the world's only skunk ape research center, took 27 photographs of the 7-foot-tall  creature in the Everglades on Tuesday night.

Shealy said the photos are the product of eight months of sitting in a tree in the hope of coaxing the animal out of its native habitat. "I had been sitting up in the tree for about two hours every night for the past eight months, and I didn't feel particularly good about seeing anything that night," Shealy said of his alleged encounter with the hairy beast.

"I dozed off for a little while, and when I woke up I saw it coming straight at me. At first I thought it was a man, but then I realized it was the skunk ape."

Shealy said he carries a camera at all times while he is perched on his homemade lookout. He pulled out the camera and shot a whole roll of film when he allegedly saw the skunk ape about 50 yards away from him. "I tried so long and worked so hard, you can imagine spending eight months in a tree," Shealy said. "I saw the skunk ape and knew what I had to do".

Shealy said he was never afraid of the skunk ape while it was walking toward him. He said it was apparent the animal would never do anything to harm him or anyone else. "After taking the photos, I sat back and took a deep breath and thought what a docile, docile animal was out there," Shealy said. Shealy knows there are more than a handful of skeptics.

That he first thought the animal was a man makes some wonder whether the figure in Shealy's photos might in fact be a human in a gorilla costume.

"Walking around in a gorilla costume in the middle of hunting season would be crazy," Shealy said. He went on to admit he does not know of any gorilla hunters in the Florida Everglades. "It's a shame there are people in this world that refuse to believe there is something they don't know about," Shealy says of the skunk ape skeptics. "I call them know-it-alls, and nobody likes a know-it-all."

Shealy said that the day after waking up and allegedly seeing the hairy beast approaching him, he returned to the same area to follow the tracks of the animal. It was while he was following the tracks that Shealy made what he said could be the biggest skunk ape discovery since the first sighting - small footprints he says appear to be from a baby skunk ape.

"I found some small tracks, definitely those of a skunk ape, and I think it was probably about 140 pounds, compared to the adults which are 350-plus pounds," Shealy said.

Shealy now estimates there are between nine and 12 skunk apes roaming the Everglades, and said most people who have spotted the creature usually see them in groups of three or four. Shealy said skunk apes are skilled at covering up their dead, which explains why skunk ape fossils have never been found. In order to attract the skunk ape to his perch high above the Everglades, Shealy leaves piles of lima beans on the ground, which he says are the animal's favorite food.

"They prefer a large lima bean, about the size of a half dollar, which I soak in water and place in piles throughout the area," Shealy said. "I have probably purchased over 200 pounds of lima beans this year."

Shealy has been interviewed on several television programs and in worldwide tabloids about his skunk ape tale. Most recently, Shealy appeared on cable's Comedy Central, where he led interviewers on an unsuccessful hunt for the skunk ape.

Shealy estimates he has received more than $30 million in free advertising because of all the media attention, but insists he has not made a cent off his sightings. He said  about 50 people a week come to his gift shop in the hope of seeing the skunk ape or talking with the world-famous founder of the skunk ape research center. 

Although Shealy's only sightings of the skunk ape have come during periods of slow business at the gift shop, he insists the sightings are not a publicity stunt. "There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the skunk ape exists.

If it is a hoax, I'm not aware of it," Shealy said. Shealy said he plans to continue his nightly skunk ape vigil alone among the Everglades, and promises more pictures the next time he encounters the animal.

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