A driver stops to relieve himself by the side of the road late one night along a stretch of road, in an undeveloped area consisting mostly of swamps and cattle fields.
“Someone’s coming,” his sister calls out to him from the passenger seat, and all at once he hears the sounds of branches breaking in the woods.
He looks up, and sees a darkly colored animal, approximately seven to eight feet tall, running toward him from within the treeline. Jumping back into the car, he looks again, and sees it is advancing on them rapidly.
Frightened, he takes off; but as they car moves away, down the road, he pumps the brakes a few times to illuminate the road behind them. The creature is standing in the middle of the road, looking at them as they depart.
This account describes a reported experience from almost a quarter century ago, from September 1989, on a back road off the highway west of Cocoa.
If taken at face value, it could be considered one of nearly a dozen reported encounters from Brevard County with Florida’s own variation on Sasquatch, the “Skunk Ape.”
“Some accounts indicate that the Skunk Ape has been a part of Florida lore for decades, but it has been reported widely only since the 1970s, when developers began encroachment into the Everglades,” according to the encyclopedia Cryptozoology A-Z, by Loren Coleman and Jerome Clark.
This cryptid derives its name from the strong stench described in reports of run-ins with the creature, of which there were dozens during its heyday in the 1970s.
A 1997 article in the Daytona Beach News-Journal makes reference to there being several sightings in Brevard County as part of this early wave of attention, but does not specify them, and I have been unable to uncover any such reports in perusal of local news or cryptozoological sources.
More recent decades, however, exhibit at least ten such reports from diverse points across the Space Coast, including the 1989 account described above.
Two years earlier, in July 1987, another motorist indicates seeing a similar tall, dark anthropoid crossing I-95 in the distance ahead of him as he drove by en route to Melbourne. The figure, who he estimated at 6 to 7 feet tall, looked down the road before crossing from the median to the west side of the highway. The animal appeared to be walking upright, but, “very hunched not completely upright like we walk.”
At least half of the known reports for Brevard County involve sightings of apparent ape-men near or crossing roads seen by drivers, though a couple come from boat pilots. One witness says he was frogging on his boat on St. John’s River, just south of Lake Winder when he heard loud dull noises. Suddenly mud began hitting his boat, and when he turned his light to see where it was coming from, he found himself staring into a “Neanderthal” face approximately 30 feet away. He described what he’d seen as being about eight feet tall, with dark colored hair, and slightly lighter brown hair around its face.
“I lost all feeling in my body, I just about passed out,” the witness reported to the Bigfoot Field Research Organization, ” I was lost, I didnt know what to do. I was in total shock.”
Another such account came from a fishing guide, who said that he along with two client passengers, a doctor and an airline pilot, spotted the hair-covered man-beast walking up a sand bank at the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge. At first he believed it to be a bear, until they got closer, and it turned and looked in their direction.
“It was approximately 6/7 ft tall, long reddish brown hair, and was built like a side by side fridge, very square. It’s face looked more cave man then ape.”
“He was found to be entirely credible and believable,” concluded naturalist David Wright after a follow-up interview. “The witness’ responses to variable questioning concerning this incident produced no indication that this was a fabrication, but a description of an actual encounter.”
Allegations of two more sightings in Titusville emerged in 1993, according to author E. Lynn Wright, both by seemingly reliable observers- one a NASA engineer, the other a Lockheed systems manager at Kennedy Space Center.
Another sighting originated on US-1 near Rockledge one rainy night in 1998. This time the witness description is of something with long, dirty yellow hair, covered in some kind of tarp or piece of plastic.
“I have never seen anything like that in my life,” she said. “It was not a man, it was entirely too tall.”
The following year another sighting came from Palm Bay, of a nearly seven foot hair covered creature running across a rural road.
Another road-crossing incident came from a witness in 2011 on Highway 407, outside of Port St. John, of a tall, extremely muscular two legged animal running very fast across the road, and leaping to the embankment beyond.
“The feet where huge. as it took steps I noticed how large they were,” he said. “The over all body seemed very THICK. The animal was very muscular. From the side view I had , you could see just how thick of a body it was.”
Another partial encounter report came from some hunters west of Melbourne in 2013, who had been sitting in a hunting blind when they heard loud crashing sounds.
“I thought it was pigs and was curious to see if he could pinpoint where they were but the crashing got louder and he said the foot steps sounded like a man’s gait, 2 legs,” he said. “…then all the sudden a big boom and then the loudest and creepiest howl I ever heard, nothing like a man or animal I’ve ever heard.”
Interestingly, none of these accounts make any reference to a particular smell, the very attribute often said to be the hallmark of the specific sub-category of “Skunk Ape.”
Then again, the visual characteristics of this speculative Florida denizen have undergone some changes over time, as well. In early accounts, from the 40s to 70s, this alleged undiscovered creature is described as much smaller than the Bigfoot of more northern regions, and less upright, walking on all fours or with a “waddling gait” more resembling an orang-utan or chimpanzee. While some more recent accounts, along with some photos said to depict this creature, still adhere to this, it is more common to find accounts more closely resembling the Sasquatch ideal popularized in television and movies, a taller, more man-like entity.
Is it possible there could be more than one still-undiscovered primate evading human attention in the swamps and back woods of the Sunshine State, or are the apparent differences in accounts sign of its folkloric nature, a legend growing and evolving in the mix of external cultural influences?
Bigfoot Field Research Organization, Sightings Database
Clark, J.; Coleman, L. Cryptozoology A To Z: The Encyclopedia Of Loch Monsters Sasquatch Chupacabras And Other Authentic Mysteries of Nature. Simon and Schuster, 2013
Matthews, Rupert. True Life Encounters With Legendary Ape-Men. Arcturus, 2008
Wright, E. Lynne. Myths and Mysteries of Florida. Morris Book Publishing, 2012
“Florida may be home to Skunk Ape, other mythical creatures.” Florida Today, October 28, 2007