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Sniffing out the Skunk Ape


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Sniffing out the Skunk Ape

Michael OHara

Paul: Looking forward to flying out to Big Cypress swamp in South Florida next week and spending some time in the field looking for yet-to-be-discovered-primates and/or any evidence.

While the Pacific Northwest gets the bulk of the attention regarding our hairy friends, Florida is a hotbed for reported Sasquatch activity, and Big Cypress Swamp has an extremely high concentration. Out of the BFRO Geographic Database, Florida ranks third, behind only Washington State and California in number of reports submitted. The local Florida version is often called the Skunk Ape due to the foul odor that is often reported to be associated with sightings.

Mike and I spent some time in the area in 2015 after a witness sent me an interesting photograph taken by his son as they prepared to hike into the preserve to photograph wildlife. The photo was compelling, but was taken at a distance and lacked significant detail as a result.


Mike and I wanted to put the photo in context. So we returned to the scene, accompanied by the witnesses, to duplicate both the distance and the angle from which the photograph was taken. We wanted to recreate the photo to get a sense of scale, and to see if maybe there was an obvious culprit. Due to my experience in our third grade production of “Frosty The Snowman” (as the narrator), followed up with my performance as Wise Man Number 2 in our Nativity Play ( I brought the Frankincense), I was nominated to play the lead role.

While we could not conclude that the subject in the picture was animate, we WERE able to confirm that – whatever or whoever it was, it did not appear in the same position upon our return, seeming to rule out a tree or bush.


Michael: This was a rare case where I found the photo much more compelling after we visited the location than before. Usually the reverse is true. We see a lot of photos that look interesting but once you get to the scene, you realize the subject must have been two feet tall, or there is an obvious stump there that just looks like an ape from the right angle. This photo didn’t impress me too much at first sight. It could be almost anything.

But, we are quite confident that we found the same tree next to the subject in the photo, and there was nothing around that could really have been mistaken for the subject. No stumps or fallen trees nearby or anything that might have been what was photographed. Standing Paul next to the tree, and trying to align it as closely as I could for comparison does make it look like the subject has more mass than your average animal, especially in south Florida. There was not a lot of time between the photo and our visit for the tree to grow much, and, as Josh Gates once sagely observed on Destination Truth, trees don’t shrink.

The area where the tree stands was dry when we were there, but is generally flooded and would have been when the picture was taken. There is a trail on slightly higher ground that winds around the edge of the area, and this was the trail taken by the witness and his son on that day. And this is gator country. Anyone wading out in the swamp in an ape suit would certainly have earned his 15 minutes of fame.

I am not ready to say it is an unknown primate, but it is interesting, and certainly the area could support such an animal.


Paul: Many of the Skunk Ape sightings report the creature as being noticeably smaller in comparison to it’s cousins to the north. This would be consistent with the pattern of other mammals relative to the climate in which they live. This association is known as Bergmann’s Rule. For mammals living in colder climates - bigger is better. The larger the body, the greater that fat storage.

Bergmann explained that larger animals have a smaller surface-area-to-volume ratio, which results in reduction of heat loss. Hence, the average-sized buck in Florida is significantly less than that of the average-sized buck in northern New York. For the mammal living in the hotter climate, economy sized brings the added advantage of less bulk to lug around in the heat.

A sprawling 729,000-acre swamp, Big Cypress has a rich history of reported Skunk Ape sightings.

Hopefully I can add one.

Read more stories about our exploits in The Rabbit Hole Experience