Dave Shealy is the Jane Goodall of the Florida Everglades. Shealy has spent his entire life studying a smelly hominid cryptid known as the Skunk Ape, and has established the official Skunk Ape Research Headquarters in Ochopee, Florida. Here, Shealy conducts studies, investigates reports on sightings, and brings awareness to the elusive creature of the Everglades.
Shealy is aware that the Skunk Ape – like its alleged distant relative, Big Foot – is considered by many to be a figment of imagination. The United States National Park Service even refers to the creature as nothing more than a “local myth.” Despite the lack of serious attention paid to his cause, Shealy insists that there are 7-9 Skunk Apes currently living in the Everglades, and he has been working tirelessly to document their existence.
The Skunk Ape earns its name for its unusual odor, which some have likened to the smell of rotting garbage, methane or, quite simply, skunks. Some researchers attribute the mammal’s odor to its natural habitat of alligator dens “filled with swamp gas and animal cadavers,” while others maintain that the smell is a result of their lack of bathing. Regardless, all Skunk Ape sightings have made reference to their distinct scent.
According to Shealy, an average male Skunk Ape reportedly stands 6-7 feet tall and weighs roughly 450 lbs. Females are considerably smaller, standing only 5-6 feet tall and weighing only up to 250 lbs. Both sexes are covered in long, reddish or black hair – similar to that of an Orangutan or Gorilla – and stand upright on two legs. Castings made of their footprints have established four toes on each foot. Seasonal stool samples have indicated that their omnivorous diet consists of bird nestlings, wild hogs and native berries.
Though there have been thousands of Big Foot-like sightings over the past few decades, almost all have been reported as spontaneous events. That is to say, most people who go out in search of hominid cryptids often do not find success. Such is not the case for Shealy, who has encountered three Skunk Ape sightings in the course of his field studies.
Since his first sighting at the age of 10, Shealy has been documenting his methods on how to “bait” Skunk Apes. He has compiled these tips into his Everglades Skunk Ape Research Field Guide, which is sold both online and at the Ochopee headquarters. Such tips include instructions on properly “wetting” lima beans (a Skunk Ape’s favorite treat), and a reminder to store deer liver on ice.
Though Shealy has created Skunk Ape baiting tactics, he is vehemently opposed to the poaching or capturing of these mystical creatures. In fact, Shealy recommends that anyone who encounters a Skunk Ape should wait five days before publicizing their findings, so as to give the Skunk Ape sufficient time to leave the area. Additionally, Shealy has been featured on The Daily Show and various TLC and Travel Channel programs, where he has educated people on the Skunk Ape and the fragile ecosystem of the Everglades.
Visitors to the Skunk Ape Research Headquarters can purchase Skunk Ape memorabilia and educational materials (complete with Shealy’s own personal illustrations), as well as experience a reptile and exotic bird exhibition. Overnight stays are available on the campgrounds.