Tonight we're on the hunt for the skunk ape. It's a bigfoot-like creature some say lives in the everglades. We've been tracking down the evidence, searching to see if this creature really exists in our own back yard. Just like me, you'll find the evidence to be strange and the stories even stranger.
Before the traffic, before the high rises, before the Spaniards claimed Florida, Native Americans spoke of if, even feared it.
"About 7 and a half feet tall covered with hair reddish brown hair."
David Shealy is talking about the skunk ape, South Florida's version of big foot. David claims to have seen the foul smelling creature not once but three times in the Everglades.
"Looked like a man, maybe a little bigger, maybe 7 feet tall, walking in this marsh heading over to that swamp over there."
David's life revolves around the mystical giant. He's lived on the boundaries of the Big Cypress Swamp his entire life. His first encounter happened when he was just 10 years old.
"That kind of made it a life time obsession."
In fact, this is his convenience store. One of the few signs of civilization in the forgotten town of Ochoppee. He calls it the skunk ape research headquarters.
"I took this picture in 1997"
This is the most famous picture taken of skunk ape. The debate rages if it's real or not. Inside his store you can see some of David's proof, his pictures, drawings, even castings he's made of footprints.
"Based on the sightings and the evidence I'm thinking that there are between 7 to 9 skunk apes in the big cypress preserve."
David tracks all sightings, some as far north as Tallahassee, but he focuses on the ones reported in South Florida.
"3 or 4 people every year, not a whole lot actually have an encounter but people are still seeing skunk apes, it's not just me.">
So is skunk ape real? I went hunting with David to find out.. into the swamp.. armed and ready for anything... it's an experience I'll never forget.
"I see something."
After seeing the pictures, sizing up the footprints...
"It was like seeing a ghost."
and hearing the encounters. I needed more proof.
Self proclaimed skunk ape expert David Shealy cranks up his trusty swamp buggy and we're off to the most active skunk ape sighting spot around. So active, the locals have even put up this sign... its humorous, but David is serious and takes me here.
This is David's skunk ape trap, his bait, lima beans, but he's stopped using this trap a few years ago.
Back in the buggy, it's not long before David spots something out of the ordinary: a deer skull, picked clean by vultures, but David says deer a a staple for skunk apes.
"What's unusual it won't be ripped apart, it's belly will be slit and just the liver will be gone out of it."
Through the mud and deep into the everglades, David takes me to one of his many skunk ape stands.
"It's a little crooked it doesn't have much of a seat."
Immediately he sits down .. looks.. listens.. and smells.
"Constantly smelling the air if the skunk ape was around you might get a whiff of it."
There are different theories as to why the skunk ape might smell bad: David doesn't question it, in 1997 he was at this very spot when he took 27 photos, including this one.
"I heard it coming from back over in there I heard it splashing and I was watching and within a hundred yards appeared in the grass in front of me."
David never talks about fear, but 2 German women were frightened, claiming a very close encounter with a skunk ape..
"That's the closest things of an attack I've ever heard."
They describe the animal as irritated and strangely attracted to them, David believes it was mating season and to this day gives out this warning.
"Women visiting the everglades, if it was that time of the month, maybe they should change their plans maybe come here when it's a little safer."
David has spent months out here looking...
"I think there is a deer over there."
Hoping to find more proof, but he knows it's going to take a lot to convince main stream scientists.
"Well it's going to take a dead body."
So far no body, not even a single bone from South Florida's skunk ape, only grainy pictures, questionable tracks and salacious stories.
"I've spent 40 years out here."
David is a believer and for now that's all he needs.
"It's a fact as far as I am concerned already."
I have to say I did not find proof positive either way.
David's evidence was not enough to convince me that skunk ape really exists, but I was impressed with the amount of details in every story he told and those details never changed when I asked follow-up questions.