Part of the beauty of being a GypsyNester is the opportunity to explore the unknown. We took that up a notch when we drove deep into the Everglades on the Tamiami Trail (the section of U.S. Highway 41 named as a clever contraction of Tampa & Miami) and came upon the Skunk Ape Research Headquarters.
This was not the kind of place that we could possibly drive on by, we had to go inside and investigate. What we discovered was the ultimate source for all things Skunk Ape, the Florida cousin in the Bigfoot/ Sasquatch/
After viewing the photos, news articles and plaster casts of footprints we were hungry for more information so we asked to see the proprietor and renown Skunk Ape expert and author of The Everglades Skunk Ape Research Field Guide, David Shealy.
Mr. Shealy was happy to fill us in on the history and habits of the elusive hominids, both through his personal experiences and documentation he has received through others. He really captured our interest when he relayed his tips for spotting one. We had to try!
The best news was that the headquarters also serves as the office for a campground, so we forked over the fee to stay a few days. We were determined to get an up close and personal, real live Skunk Ape encounter for ourselves.
The first step was to purchase an Everglades Skunk Ape Research Field Guide (all proceeds benefit Skunk Ape research) which contains a cornucopia of information on these rare creatures. We poured over the guide, taking extensive notes. We didn't want to head out deep into the Everglades unprepared.
In the guide we learned that Skunk Apes are omnivores, with the ability to climb and make beds out of leafy branches, there are an estimated 7 - 9 of them in the Everglades, they like alligator caves, smell like rotten eggs, and they love lima beans. Skunk Apes lead a nomadic, hunter/gatherer existence, have a good memory and exceptional hearing.
But the main purpose of the field guide is to assist in, and facilitate the sighting of Skunk Apes. It recommends that preparations should be made before heading out into the glades on a search.
SKUNK APE EXPEDITION CHECKLIST:
Map of area
Lima Beans (1 lb. dry)
Plaster (5 lb. bag)
Bucket (5 gal. w/handle)
We were not particularly interested in making any plaster casts of footprints, so we omitted the bucket and bag and chose to bring a camera instead. We were pretty amped up on the prospect of getting the world's first clear, in focus photographs of a bigfoot type creature. With our zoom lens.
Mr. Shealy had explained to us how Skunk Apes can be spotted by leaving out bait to attract them, even telling us where he had left some recently, but the guide book went into further detail.
Baits include: whole kernel corn, rice, dog food, deer liver (which "Should be kept frozen until your site is chosen." and "Should only be used immediately following an actual sighting.") but "Unmistakably the best baits available are dry beans. Black eyed peas, pinto and kidney beans all work well, however large lima beans are the recommended bait and should be considered your first choice."
Wet beans are "proven to be more effective" because "the beans sour, giving off an odor which is appealing to Skunk Apes," but go bad after a few days. Never use bacon or pork as that will attract buzzards.
The manual goes on to advise that in order to protect the apes: "If your attempts at baiting are successful, wait at least five days before telling anyone. This will allow enough time for the Skunk Ape to leave the area." Because, "Unfortunately, there are people who would like nothing better than to shoot one of these magnificent creatures."
The Field Guide also advises that "The use of tranquilizer guns is not recommended and is subject to regulations." and "Leg traps are strictly forbidden." Also, "Any evidence collected should be considered valuable and reported to the local authorities, immediately."
Armed with this information, and one last extremely valuable piece of advice, "Never enter an alligator cave in search of Skunk Apes," we felt like we were ready to embark on our quest.
It was dry season so we headed into the tall grass that is usually swamp. At this time of year it was soggy, but definitely passable. Our first stop was the bait that Shealy had left out for the apes.
When we came upon the pile of beans we didn't see any signs of Skunk Ape activity. We did find paw prints, large paw prints, and followed them to the bones of a fairly large animal that looked to have been devoured. We could only guess that a Florida Panther had been around. We were in no mood to fend off any hungry predators so our survival instinct told us to move on.
Next we set out across several hundred yards of mushy grassland to one of the ladder stands that the headquarters has erected. Climbing up to the platform allowed us a much better view of the surrounding area. We scanned the horizon with our binoculars, but once again we saw no sign of a Skunk Ape. We were treated to one of the most spectacular sunsets we'd ever seen, so we felt our first evening's efforts were not in vain.
The next day we discussed other possible sighting sites and strategies with Mr. Shealy and he pointed us to an area across the highway a mile or two into the glades. Since the trip would cover several miles total we decided to head out on our bicycles, at least as far as we could. After a few miles the trail became too muddy for our bikes and we continued on foot.
We wandered deep into the Everglades, miles from any signs of civilization, and found some matted grass amongst the underbrush in a few places. But not being experts, we were unable to ascertain whether these were Skunk Ape bedding sites or the resting place of some other animal.
After a full day of investigation our water supply was running low and we had many miles to go to get back to The Skunk Ape Research Headquarters and our base camp. Tails tucked between our legs, we hiked and biked our way back through the mushy and magnificent scenery. A beautiful walk in the wilderness.
We had been skunked in our efforts to sight a Skunk Ape... this time.
David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com