Skunkape Headquarters In Florida

If you're looking for a reason to visit Florida, other than the amazing theme parks and beaches, you should check out the Skunkape Headquarters.

“The best way to describe a skunk ape is like a hairy man,” says Dave Shealy, founder of the center, which doubles as a gift shop and animal exhibit and is also the gathering point for pole boat tours down the nearby Turner River. Shealy claims to have seen the creature as a child, in 1974, near his home in what’s now Big Cypress National Preserve. Tall — “6 or 7 feet would be a large one” — the skunk ape is covered with hair, “a lot like the Bigfoot of the Pacific Northwest,” explains Shealy in a matter-of-fact tone. “But unlike a Bigfoot, skunk apes have four toes instead of five.” Good to know.

Shealy himself is a tall man, with legs like tree trunks, a dead-serious air and glacier-blue eyes. And he speaks with such conviction it’s hard not to be at least curious about the legend — especially when you browse the array of skunk ape–related souvenirs (koozies, tongue-in-cheek hunting permit stickers, T-shirts) — in the gift shop beside a small gas station. What you won’t find in the Skunk Ape Research Headquarters, an exhibit area about the size of a large garage, is a research station on the skunk ape. There’s no real research going on here at all.

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