MIAMI (CBSMiami) -- The Sunshine State has beautiful beaches, thrilling theme parks, and great nightlife; but did you know we are also home to the elusive and mysterious Skunk Ape?
As you head west on U.S. 41 toward Big Cypress National Preserve, you'll pass Clyde Butcher's Art Gallery and the United States' smallest post office, then you'll reach the official Skunk Ape Research Headquarters in Ochopee on Tamiami Trail near Naples.
It is here in the depths of the Florida Everglades, where Dave Shealy has dedicated his life to studying the smelly, elusive Skunk Ape.
Shealy and his son Jack, conduct studies, investigate reports on sightings, and bring awareness to the elusive creature of the Everglades.
"A lot of folks coming here, the first thing they ask is, 'What is the Skunk Ape'? explains Jack Shealy. "The Skunk Ape is the southernmost relative of Big Foot, like a Yeti or a Sasquatch. All of the stories over the years add up to sightings of some sort of large mammal in the Glades."
Dave Shealy insists that there are 7-9 Skunk Apes currently living in the Everglades.
"There have been Skunk Ape spotted on the Loop Road which is in the Big Cypress Preserve. Some of the most well covered sightings were in Davie, Florida which Davie is grown up now, but back in the 60s, and 70s there were a lot of Skunk Ape sightings in the Davie area," explains Dave.
"The legend of the Skunk Ape here in the Florida Everglades goes back hundreds of years, all the way back to the indigenous cultures, and my father has spent the better part of 20 years trying to find out if there's any truth to that," says Jack.
Dave Shealy claims to have seen one of the hairy manlike beasts as a child and again three more times including in 2000 when he shot video of the creature in an open field.
"I was actually looking for deer that day. I wanted to get some photographs for some hunting friends of mine. That's when I heard something moving in the water. It was running, it wasn't running like a deer or a bear," recalls Dave.
Is it true or just a myth?
"In the Everglades, anything is possible," says visitor Becky Cunningham. "It's hard to say what we are going to have roaming around out here because nobody gets to see all of the Everglades."
According to Shealy, an average male Skunk Ape reportedly stands 8 feet tall and weighs roughly 450 lbs. Females are smaller. Both are covered in long, reddish or black hair, similar to an Orangutan or Gorilla. They stand upright on two legs.
"It's all in the books history wise, folk lore about the Skunk Ape in the Everglades," says Kenny Hill, a Naples tour bus operator. "Some guys claim they've seen it out here at night time. It's hard to say what it is or what's it not. There's a primate facility in Hendry County. It's known that there have been escapes from there. Maybe it's some kind of primate that's running around maybe there is a real big foot, Skunk Ape, who knows, only time will tell, evidence will tell."
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