A Skunk Ape movie was shot in Tampa. Is the creature real?


TAMPA – The authenticity of a Florida Skunk Ape video has been debated since 2000, when David Shealy allegedly captured footage of the creature in the Big Cypress National Preserve in Ochopee.

The two-minute video shows a large, hairy creature crawling on two legs through a swamp.

It has been viewed over 250,000 times on YouTube, shared by many media, including Smithsonian magazine, and helps bring curious visitors to Shealy’s Skunk Ape research headquarters, which doubles as a gift shop and camping office.

Are his images real? More importantly, is the Skunk Ape?

“When people don’t believe, it’s ridiculous to me,” Shealy said.

Filmmaker Ryan Justice admits his own footage of Skunk Ape captured in the wooded area behind the Museum of Science & Industry on Fowler Avenue in Tampa is fake.

But he hopes it gets the same attention to the Florida legend as Shealy’s video.

The Tampa producer and director spent September shooting a film with the working title The wild man throughout Hillsborough County in September.

With Michael Pare, perhaps best known for playing Eddie in Eddie and the Cruisers, the film follows a group of young filmmakers who, while in the Florida wilderness as part of a documentary investigating a wave of missing people, discover Skunk Ape.

“As a longtime resident of Florida, I know Skunk Ape is something people have always talked about,” Justice said. “Is this the missing link? Is it related to Bigfoot? I do not know. It is a Florida legend that must be told.

But is it real?

“There might be something else there,” Justice said.

Hillsborough County Film Commissioner Tyler Martinolich echoed the sentiment.

“I’m probably going to lose my filmmaker card for sharing this, but 90% of what I watch is paranormal and cryptozoology shows,” he said. “Like Fox Mulder, I want to believe it.”

• • •

Skunk Apes, named for their foul odor, are said to be between 6 and 8 feet tall with short hair covering their bodies.

Unlike the Five-Finger Bigfoot, Yeti, Sasquatch, and Abominable Snowman that would have been seen in other parts of the world, Florida Skunk Apes have four fingers and climb trees where they sleep on homemade rugs. Shealy said.

Shealy, 57, believes there are as many as nine people living in the area bounded by the 730,000-acre Big Cypress National Preserve and the nearby 1.5-million-acre Everglades National Park.

He has resided on the reserve his entire life and claims to have spotted a Skunk monkey four times since he was a child.

“The sightings date back hundreds of years,” said Shealy. “During the Seminole Wars, people encountered Skunk Apes in their battles near the Miami River and Big Cypress.”

Yet in 1971, after an archaeologist reported seeing a 7-foot-tall, 700-pound “ape man”, Betty Mae Jumper, a former chief of the Seminole tribe, told reporters in Tampa: “I didn’t never heard of anything like it. in our legends … I have never heard any Indian speak of an ape-man.

But sightings continued throughout Florida.

In 1974, newspapers reported that the Florida Highway Patrol received two calls two hours apart from Fort Lauderdale residents who had seen a Skunk Ape. The sightings were 5 miles apart near US 27 and Hollywood Boulevard.

A 1974 sketch published in the Tampa Tribune of what Skunk Ape looks like. [ Times (1974) ]

The Skunk Apes reportedly visited the Tampa Bay area in 1977. Newspapers reported sightings in Lakeland and Gibsonton, where locals discovered footprints 17 inches long, 10 inches wide and 2 inches deep.

“I am told of hundreds and thousands of sightings a year,” Shealy said. “I get asked all the time, ‘So why aren’t there any pictures? Well I see pictures all the time. But I am not God. I can’t call the news and force it to show someone’s photo.

One of the most recent sightings of Skunk Ape covered by local newspapers dates back to 2004, when a woman from Lakeland claimed to have seen one up close. She described him as being 6 to 8 feet tall with hair 2 inches long and lips that had the texture of a dog’s paw pad.

• • •

“I’m not about to say there isn’t a Skunk monkey,” said Cathy Salustri, who wrote about them in her book. Backroads of Paradise: a journey to rediscover old Florida.

“Every culture across the world, no matter how isolated they have been from other cultures, no matter where they are on the globe, has a legend of some sort of Sasquatch. No matter what people think. it’s over there, it’s over there.

The Skunk Ape is one of three such creatures believed to reside in Florida, Salustri said.

The town of Bardin in northeast Florida has what is known as the Bardin Booger.

And the town of Two Egg in northwest Florida has the Two Egg Stump Jumper, which is said to be a “little bigfoot,” Salustri said. News archives say he is around 5 feet tall.

If that’s true, director Justice feels bad for these hairy human creatures resigned to facing the Florida heat.

The Skunk Ape bodysuit from his movie – created by special effects artist Derek Garcia, whose credits also include Avengers: Endgame and Fate Patrol – is a silicone number that required a cooling system to run cold water over actor Tim Bedinghaus’ chest.

“He had to wear the costume for five days,” Justice said. “It’s hot.”

Thus, between takes, the actor had air conditioning and plenty of water.

His snacks didn’t include lima beans, which Shealy says are a Skunk Ape’s favorite.

“They’re omnivores, so like all kinds of beans,” Shealy said. “They’re going to wreck a campsite and the main things caught in the dry goods are beans, often lima beans.”

He remembered the time, around 1967, when a group of campers in the Everglades were cooking lima beans in a pot. A Skunk Ape, he said, crashed through the cabin ceiling, tore off the beans and pulled out “a whole wall” to escape before the campers could put their guns down. .

“They love lima beans,” said Salustri. “If you put a jar of lima beans in the Everglades and they’re eaten in the morning, it could be a Skunk Ape.”

Head and Claw, part of a costume for the character Skunk Ape, during production of the film tentatively titled "The wild man," featuring a Bigfoot-like creature.
Head and claw, part of a Skunk Ape character costume, during production of the film tentatively titled “The Wild Man”, featuring a Bigfoot-like creature. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times ]

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