With Halloween upon us and the veil between natural and supernatural being very thin, we try to keep with the season by presenting you with some spooky tales. We have covered most of the ground on the island, but this particular story that was found earlier in the year was put in a folder for Halloween … and with good reason.
While it’s easy to laugh at tales of skunk apes and Bigfoot, this particular story is a bit chilling.
The story below is from the August 1, 1981 edition of the Boca Beacon, written by Mike Wayne.
Does a hairy, manlike creature walk the wilds of Florida? Is a relic of man’s past still living just a few miles from Florida’s condominium-lined coast? For many Floridians, the skunk ape is no legend. It is a living, breathing creature most often found wandering the woods at night.
While debate rages about whether or not this cousin of the western states’ Bigfoot actually exists, there are some interesting facts that should be brought to light.
The skunk or swamp ape is no newcomer to Florida. Reports date back to Columbus’ discovery of the New World. Although there have been sightings in every one of the continental United States, Florida ranks number 2 in overall sightings. And although sightings have occurred throughout the state, the Venice and Placida areas have registered the most reports. Venice alone had more than 250 sightings in a three-year period. There is no way of knowing how many sightings went unrecorded.
Why so many sightings in a short period? Whatever the creature is, and researchers put heavy emphasis on the “whatever,” it apparently has been disturbed by development in recent years. Skunk ape researchers point out that it does leave physical evidence of its presence.
The first sighting to cause interest occurred in 1970, when a group of hunters came across a foul-smelling apelike creature. The name “skunk ape” was applied and has stuck, although it is also known in Florida as a swamp ape.
But the real uproar took place in 1973. There had been a number of complaints that a large monkey or ape had been raiding homes in North Port and stealing garbage. The complaints were forwarded to Michael Corradino of the Florida Monkey Sanctuary. Corradino captures loose simians for Sarasota County and has been called upon to aid other local governments as well.
“We had a problem right from the beginning,” Corradino said. “It was the first time we had gone after a monkey and couldn’t see it, let alone catch it.”
A few weeks later Corradino was called again, this time by the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Department.
“It seems a young boy, Ronnie Steves, had heard a commotion outside his bedroom and looked out to see what it was,” Corradino explained. “What he claims to have seen was a large, hairy animal chasing his ducks.”
The 10-year-old called his father and raced outside to “save his ducks.” What he found sent him screaming back to the protection of his home. Ronnie claimed to have seen an ape staring at him that stood taller than his 6’5” father.
A search by deputies and Corradino and his staff convinced everyone that some very large animal had attacked and injured the ducks.
“I wasn’t convinced that I wasn’t still chasing a monkey,” Corradino said. “But it didn’t follow normal monkey patterns, and it shouldn’t have been out at night. Most monkeys are asleep by sunset.”
What followed were dozens of reports. Many had taken place before the Steves sighting, but the people who lived in the area had kept quiet for fear of being ridiculed.
“We followed up on as many as we could,” Corradino told the Beacon. “Of course, some people were obvious liars, some saw something even they couldn’t explain, and there were a large number of people who, in my opinion, were very sincere about what they saw.”
Corradino added that there were basic similarities in every sighting, although he was careful to withhold some details from published accounts to help validate future sightings.
Certain facts were common to all the sightings. The creature looked manlike but was hairy and very heavy. It often killed and ate small animals such as ducks, rabbits and chickens, usually eating the head and drinking the blood, leaving the rest of the body behind. It possessed great strength, often ripping down gates and cages to get to animals. And it was always spotted near the Myakka River or a waterway leading to it.
Corradino pointed out that the sightings usually occurred during the dry season and disappeared when the rainy season began.
“We used to call it the Abominable Snowbird,” Corradino said.
The sanctuary executive and his coworkers noted that the sudden outbreak of sightings may have come about because thousands of acres of land were being cleared and developed near Venice at that time. They said it was not unusual to see large numbers of animals crossing the rural roads at night.
Venice area sightings have dropped off in recent years, probably due to the lack of new development and I-75, which “neatly cut the swamp apes’ territory in two,” Corradino explained.
To the south, meanwhile, sightings continue in the Placida area. While there are fewer of them, the area is also less densely populated.
The idea of Bigfoot or a skunk ape is not a new one. There have been stories of them by every civilization in recorded history, including some Biblical accounts.
“If the creature does exist,” Corradino went on, “it most probably is the same thing that mountain climbers have encountered in Tibet.”
Although there have been thousands of sightings (more than 800 considered credible), there has been a lack of tangible evidence. No one has ever found the body of one, although one naturalist has pointed out that it is rare to find the body of anything lying around in the wild.
John Greene, a British Columbian researcher, also noted that if the creatures possess any intelligence, they might bury their dead. Even Neanderthal man, who hadn’t the power of speech, buried his dead.
Even the few photos taken of alleged creatures are inconclusive … all except one color film taken in California.
“I’ve seen the film in private,” Corradino said. “After you’ve run through it several times, it’s hard to remain skeptical.”
However, Corradino, like many other scientists, refuses to commit himself on the creature’s existence.
“I know something is out there,” he said. “It might be a deranged man, although there would have to be many to cover the state. It could be a bear, but we haven’t seen bears locally for 75 years. Or it could be a swamp ape. I really don’t know.”
He summarized by quoting a famous primatologist who publicly disputed the color film on television. Although the man found numerous faults with the film, he later said, “Looks pretty good to me.”