Saturday, August 1, 2009

MonsterQuest Swamp Beast



Numerous eyewitnesses in the southeastern United States describe encounters with a Bigfoot like creature known as the Skunk Ape. Native American tales through modern encounters speak of this half man half ape creature that stands about 7 feet tall. The name, Skunk Ape, comes from the pungent odor like rotting eggs that eyewitnesses describe coming from the creature. In the episode entitled “Swamp Beast”, the MonsterQuest team tries to find evidence for the existence of the Skunk Ape.


The History


From the Florida Everglades through the Louisiana Bayou and on into the Big Thicket Preserve of Texas, there are 1,650,000 square miles of interconnected forest and swamps. In this mostly undisturbed wilderness, there are tales of the Skunk Ape. Joy McGirt of the Creek-Seminole Nation and Gary Hawk Perkins of the Houma Nation tell of ancient Native American tales of this creature that they say has always been there.


An 1829 newspaper story tells of an early encounter between the creature they call the “Man Mountain” and locals in the Georgia swamps. While on a hunting trip, two men discover some 19” tracks. When they hear bellowing screams in the night, they are scared from the area. Their tale of this encounter leads to the formation of a hunting party made up of people from Georgia and Florida that go out looking for the source of the tracks. After two fruitless weeks, the hunting party finally finds tracks and camps for the night. During the night, the party is attacked by 13 foot tall man-like monster. The creature manages to kill most of the hunting party before it is shot and killed. The survivors of the hunting party are so shaken up that they retreat back to civilization without taking the remains of the creature.

The creature was first referenced as the Skunk Ape in 1850. An Arkansas newspaper described the Skunk Ape as a wild man covered in hair that left behind 13 inch footprints. A 1934 Tennessee newspaper article told of a mysterious creature that was fast as lightning and jumped like a kangaroo. Many reports spoke of the strange odor that belonged to the creature.


In 1983, Dan Jackson reported having an encounter with this creature in Collier County, Florida. Jackson was hog hunting when he saw what he thought was a bear about 100 to 120 yards in front of him. He approached to about 30 yards away from the creature when he saw it get up and walk away from him on two legs. He reports that this creature had the smell of rotten eggs.


Scott Kessler, whom would later become a Skunk Ape researcher, had an encounter with Skunk Apes when he was a seven year old boy. In 1977, Kessler was camping with his family near Trout, Louisiana. He woke at around midnight and could hear something coming out of the water near his campsite. As he looked out of the tent, he saw two Skunk Apes.


Wildlife tracker Dan Jackson tried to trap a Skunk Ape in 2002. He believed that a Skunk Ape was going through a local dumpster. He left out orange juice with a sedative in it near the lid of the dumpster with the plan of sedating and capturing the creature. As he watched the trap overnight, he eventually fell asleep. He woke to a Skunk Ape rummaging at the dumpster. Jackson became scared and fired a pistol at the Skunk Ape. He missed with his shot and the Skunk Ape ran off.


In August of 2000, paramedics were called to the scene of an accident near Trout, Louisiana. While the driver of the vehicle did not want to be interviewed by MonsterQuest, one of the paramedics described the accident. The driver had stated that he had struck what he believed to be a large man wearing a fur coat. The front end of the vehicle showed significant damage. The police were concerned that there might be an injured person that had wandered off so they called in for a bloodhound team. The bloodhounds followed a scent into the thick, rugged, and swampy terrain for two hours. The police could hear something large moving ahead of them but could never catch up to it. Eventually, the search was called off.


Only 20 miles from the scene of the car accident, there were numerous other sightings in Cotton Island, Louisiana. Logging crews working the area reported seeing a Skunk Ape in 2006. They found 14 inch footprints that the creature left behind.

Perhaps the best evidence of a Skunk Ape was sent to the Sarasota City, Florida Police Department on 22 December 2000. An anonymous letter arrived with two photographs. The letter said that there may be a wild orangutan roaming the area. The photographs show what appears to be some sort of primate similar to Skunk Ape descriptions.


Robert Carr of the Archeological & Historical Conservancy believes that there has been enough sighting to believe that people are really seeing something. Carr says that the Skunk Ape sightings are similar to the Bigfoot sighting in other parts of the country. The Skunk Ape has longer reddish fur vs. the normally shorter and darker fur reported in Bigfoot sightings. The Skunk Ape is normally reported as being shorter in stature than the Bigfoot sightings.


According to Carr, southern Florida has had a long history of monkeys and primates that that have gone wild. In 2006, a picture of a lone chimpanzee was taken in Gulf Breeze, Florida. In 1992, the devastation of Hurricane Andrew led the escape of 240 monkeys from the University of Miami Primate Center.


Ron Magill of the Miami Zoo states that it is possible for an animal to remain well hidden in the swamps of the southeastern United States. These vast swamps could possibly support an ape-like creature. Humans are the only known primate to be indigenous to this area but escaped primates could adapt to this climate.


The question about the Skunk Ape is whether these sightings are some unknown creature, an escaped primate population or nothing at all. The MonsterQuest team focused its investigation on three areas. They are sending an expedition to Cotton Island to try to find evidence of a Skunk Ape. They are going to have an expert examine the Sarasota City photographs. The third investigation is to try to determine why no bodies of these Skunk Apes have never been found if they exist.


The Cotton Island Expedition


MonsterQuest sends a Skunk Ape expedition to Cotton Island, Louisiana. Wildlife biologist Dr. Greg Bambenek will be leading the expedition. Joining him will be Scott Kessler from the Texas Bigfoot Research Center. The Cotton Island area has been the location of numerous Skunk Ape sightings, strange vocalizations and wood knocking sounds.


Dr. Bambenek is a wildlife scent specialist who has been developing hunting scents for over 35 years. He has developed a pheromone chip that will hopefully attract any ape like creature. The chip is made from the vaginal bacteria of humans and apes and is a scent that Bambenek believes should be successful if there are any primates in the area.


The team sets up numerous camera traps in the area. They choose a variety of terrain including the innermost areas of the swamp that are accessible by airboat only. The pheromone chips are deployed as bait in the areas of the camera traps.

The Shreveport Fire Department also helps in the hunt for the Skunk Ape. Bloodhounds from the Search and Rescue crew are brought in to search for the Skunk Ape. Using the pheromone chips as the scent, the bloodhounds are sent looking for a live ape-like creature. Bambenek and Kessler use recorded gibbon calls as a lure for the Skunk Ape. Most primates will attempt to defend their territory from other primates, so the calls would hopefully draw in any Skunk Ape.


Unfortunately this expedition does not yield any results. The bloodhounds are unable to find the scent of any ape-like creature. After several days in the swamp, the review of the camera traps do not show any sign of a Skunk Ape.


The Sarasota City Skunk Ape Photographs


Miami Zoo orangutan expert Crystal LeMaster examined the Sarasota City photographs. LeMaster says that if the creature in the photo is a real animal, it looks more like an orangutan then anything else. She states that some primates use scent glands that exude strong odors like those described in Skunk Ape sightings but orangutans do not have these smells. LeMaster believes that the photo is a hoax because the long hair looks too long and manicured for an actual wild animal.


Skunk Ape Remains


One question that has faced Skunk Ape Researchers is the question of why have no Skunk Ape bodies ever been found. Wildlife expert Peggy Callahan has devised an experiment to determine the rate of decay for the body of a potential Skunk Ape. Along with photographer Jim Title, Callahan placed the carcass of a freshly killed deer in the wilderness. A time lapse camera filmed the carcass in order to determine how fast the body of large mammal would decay. The body decayed at a rate that astounded Callahan. By day seven, maggots had reduced the body of the deer to an unrecognizable pile of bones. Callahan states that the bones would soon be carried off by scavengers or covered by leaves. Callahan believed that in an extremely moist environment like the Everglades the rate of decomposition would be even faster.


Conclusions


The MonsterQuest team was unable to find any proof of the existence of a Skunk Ape. The Sarasota City photographs were considered to be the best evidence of a wild primate but an expert believes them to be a fraud. The possibility remains open as the body decay experiment showed that a Skunk Ape population would not necessarily leave behind bodies as evidence of their existence.

The MonsterQuest episode entitled “Swamp Beast” first aired on the History Channel on 26 December 2007.

MonsterQuest investigated similar Bigfoot stories in the episodes


Sasquatch Attack


Bigfoot


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