Friday, March 26, 2010

Skunk Ape

I was twelve at the time, as were many of the boy scouts. As their guest, I was seated front row and center in a natural horseshoe amphitheater where I surveyed the nocturnal scene around me. Tiers of earthen benches rose up behind me and around me, covered by the huddled masses of scouts who had descended from their tents to listen to the evening presentation. In front of us, a six foot deep chasm separated us from the speaker, my father, who stood in front of a blazing bonfire. We listened nervously as his gargantuan, fire-lit shadow danced among the oaks, pines and palms all around us. The night’s topic was the mythological Skunk Ape.

I grew up on the Florida Monkey Sanctuary in Venice. My parents owned the refuge for unwanted primates, where over a 20 year span, more than 450 individual monkeys and apes called the sanctuary home. As the local expert on primates, my father was often called to investigate reports of a big-footed, ape-like creature that caused disturbances in the rural areas of south Florida. I had the good fortune of going on ride-alongs to help search for hair samples and create plaster casts of footprints.
The creature blamed for chicken-coop raids and other mischief was Bigfoot – know locally as the Skunk Ape. Standing over 7-feet tall with the appearance of a primate and smell of a skunk, the hairy, mythological giant was said to live in alligator dens and roam the swamps of the Everglades at night. The creature is theorized to be an omnivore and potentially the descendant of Neanderthal Man. My father never said he believed such a creature existed but we investigated anyway. Recent DNA analysis of an old Skunk Ape hair sample points to the Florida Black Bear (Ursus americanus floridanus), an omnivorous, hairy mammal that could resemble a large hominoid when they stand on their hind legs.

Back at the boy scout bonfire, my father concluded his tale of headless, bloodless chickens, destroyed chicken coops, clumps of hair on barb wire fences and massive footprints that eclipsed his size 13 shoe. The embers dimmed and the talk ended. The boys were now tasked with finding their way back through the darkness to their tents and for at least that one night, I’d bet those boys believed in the Skunk Ape.


  1. Michael W. CorradinoMarch 28, 2010 at 7:30 AM

    Best part of that night according to the Scout leaders was that nobody left their tents till dawn.

    1. I remember the Bigfoot stories very well. There was not much to print in the old Venice Gondolier back in the 70's, so your, dads, articles about the latest Bigfoot sightings were fun reads. I must confess that I started all this nonsense when I was renting horse stalls to Marty Crow of North Port. I owned a ranch on East Venice Ave (old farm road), and just wanted to give her a scare. I made a large footprint in front of one of the horse stalls she was renting, and had no idea that she would become so frightened that she would call the Sarasota sheriffs office to report the sighting. When the officer arrived I had already made the fake print "gone". He made a report and mentioned that an unnamed local business man, who did not want his name used, found the print. And from there the story grew and grew. I never told anyone that it was a fake story, but I was amazed at some people, who I thought were relatively normal, would "sight" Bigfoot or Littlefoot or UFO's. This was a fun time in Vencie for sure. Then there was the guy who was "renting" Palm Trees. For $100 you could name a Palm Tree and he would put a sign on the tree with the name of the person sponsoring the tree. Crazy for sure. Every weekend I was at Balard's Farm, buying some goats, or chickens, or something. Really a fun time and I think of it often. I sold my ranch around 1979, and traveled the world. I came back to Sarasota in 2000 and could not believe the changes. I was a builder and developer in Venice, and also could not believe the changes and all the new people in the area. I go down to Venice once in a while, but it is not the same (grew up there from 1950 to 1979). Well if Mike is still around give him my regards, and tell him it was fun "reporting" even if fake. Robert Mahon