Creature Feature

Move over, Sasquatch. Beat it, Bigfoot. It's time you met South Florida's own: The great Skunk Ape.

Weeks's account, if accurate, contains one critical piece of information. Within ten or fifteen minutes of seeing the creature, he says, he was in the Shealy brothers' shop. David Shealy was visible out back, washing one of his snakes, and Jack Shealy was in the shop. "Ninety percent of the local people down there said, 'Well, it's just David pulling pranks, you know,' and I kind of halfway figured the same thing myself," Weeks reports. "But David didn't have time to get from where I was at to the shop, because there's no roads except that one road going back down to [U.S.] 41. So there was no way he could have got back to the shop before I did without me seeing him."

Encouraged by Weeks's testimony placing David Shealy far from the most recent sighting, Bob Carr wasted no time responding. He notified his tracking-expert partner, T.L. Riggs, that very afternoon, and by 8:30 the following morning Riggs was standing at the head of the trail near Turner River Road. Six piles of beans -- lima, pinto, and black-eyed peas, all mixed together -- sat apparently untouched on the far side of the lime-rock road. No bare footprints of any size were visible on the road's surface, and as Riggs entered the trail he saw only a few shoeprints. Evidently, the BASF bigfoot-chasers hadn't gone in very far.

Then, about 25 feet along the trail, Riggs hit pay dirt. Pressed firmly into the mud before him were five partial prints of large bare feet. Only the front third of each was visible, as if whoever or whatever had made them had been putting very little weight on its heels. The prints were smaller than those Shealy had found, but still quite a bit bigger than Riggs's size twelves; measurements put them at 4.3 inches across the ball. Not only that, they were perfect, each with five well-defined toes. Once again, as he had with the Burns Road footprint, Riggs went to work with his plaster to make an impression.

Like a microcosm of the Skunk Ape mystery itself, the cast Riggs brought back to show Carr offers a frustrating mix of clarity and obscurity. Where Shealy's fourteen-inch casts -- and the very similar fourteen-inch footprint we found by the broken rake -- are muddy and indistinct, Carr says Riggs's cast is detailed enough to evidence dermal ridges, the fingerprintlike whorls on the bottoms of the feet of all higher primates. (Carr and Riggs discovered this after the fact, when they took the cast out in bright sunlight to photograph it.) Tantalizingly, the toes of the Riggs print also seem to show no signs of having ever been confined in shoes. Then again, as big as it is, the new print still lies within the upper range of possibility for Homo sapiens. In Carr's view, it could have been made by a barefoot human over six feet tall and weighing more than 250 pounds.

"The track is authentic in that it's a track of a hominid, or a Homo sapiens-type creature. There's no doubt -- or I should say little doubt -- about that," Carr says. "The problem is, we haven't eliminated the fact that an individual much larger than the average human being could have been barefoot back there. The size doesn't in itself prove anything."

Once again, it would seem, the Skunk Ape has vanished back into the woods. But Carr thinks the creature's latest foray into the sunlight may have set the stage for resolving the matter. He plans to have the newest footprint cast analyzed by physical anthropologists, experts on feet and locomotion. He's continuing to monitor the Ochopee area, ready to chase the next sighting report at a moment's notice. He's even set up a toll-free number for Skunk Ape reports through the nonprofit Archaeological and Historical Conservancy -- stretching that organization's mandate to include the conservation of a living piece of Florida's heritage. The number is 800-790-0803. If you happen to see a huge, hairy, horrible-smelling humanoid, Bob Carr wants to know.

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