From Stephen Wagner
Compelling sightings, yet the mystery remains
IN AUGUST, 2004, Jennifer Ward was driving on a rural road in Southern Florida. She had just been visiting a friend and, as the sun was setting, she was now on her way home with her two daughters asleep in the back seat. Something on the side of the road caught her attention. She suspected it was an animal of some kind, but could not tell what. She slowed the car to a crawl to get a better look. It appeared to be crouched in a ditch on the roadside. It was something large. Something she had never seen before.
As she neared it, the creature noticed her and stood to its full height, on two legs. It was the last thing Jennifer expected to see. ''When he saw me, he was as surprised as I was,'' she told the Sun-Sentinal. ''I didn't stop because I was scared. It was almost dark, but I could see it and get a good look.''
What Jennifer described was a mysterious creature that has been seen in virtually every state of the Union, but has never been scientifically classified.
It stood six to eight feet tall, she reported, and was covered in dark hair about two inches long. The area around its eyes was whitish and its full lips had the color and texture of the pad on a dog's paw.
Jennifer Ward had a chance encounter with Florida's version of Bigfoot, the Skunk Ape, a name it earned because of its powerfully foul odor, which is said to be a cross between a skunk, rotten eggs and cow manure. Her highly credible sighting is one of the latest in a long list of Skunk Ape sightings that date back more than 200 years. In the past 20 years, there have been about 75 reported sightings. Several photos and even videos alleged to be of the elusive creature have also been taken.
The Skunk Ape is thought to dwell in Florida's swamps and Everglades. Researchers suspect that the individual Jennifer encountered may have been displaced by Hurricane Charley, which recently had ravaged the area.
Despite the number of sightings, the largest number of Bigfoot-type sightings outside the Pacific Northwest where Sasquatch resides, the rangers who regularly patrol the large nature preserves are skeptical about the existence of the Skunk Ape. So far, no rangers have officially reported any sightings.
David Shealy, a Skunk Ape researcher and lifetime resident of the Everglades thinks otherwise. He believes he has evidence in the form of a plaster cast of a large Skunk Ape footprint and a reddish hair sample that was found in a broken branch seven feet above the ground. Shealy also runs a small roadside ''zoo'' and a gift shop stocked with Skunk Ape memorabilia, so he may have a vested interest in keeping the creature alive in the minds of the public.
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