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Friday, March 6, 1998 Published at 16:06 GMT

World: Americas

The abominable swampman
image: [ David Shealey: seaching for the Skunk Ape ]
David Shealey: seaching for the Skunk Ape

A seven-foot-tall gorilla-like creature said to resemble the legendary Yeti has been reported lurking in the Florida Everglades in the US. Malcolm Brabant investigates.

Tourists in Florida have been laying bait around the vast swamp known as the Everglades in the hope of catching sight of a seven-foot-tall gorilla-like creature said to resemble the legendary Abominable Snowman.

[ image: The Everglades: is the Skunk Ape hidden behind the foliage?]
The Everglades: is the Skunk Ape hidden behind the foliage?
During the past few weeks several tour groups claim to have spotted the red-haired Big Foot, known locally as a Skunk Ape because of its appalling smell.

The National Parks Service dismisses the stories as a hoax, but American tribes that live in the swamps insist it is real.

David Shealey is on a mission to solve the greatest mystery of this vast untamed wilderness and prove that the Skunk Ape exists.

"I've got a feeling that right now if it wasn't for all the bushes we could see it. I do not know where it would be, but it would be around so we could see it."

[ image: David Shealey finds a footprint]
David Shealey finds a footprint
He says he once saw the red-haired monster 25 years ago, but all he has seen since are tracks in the mud. Amazingly within seconds of plunging into the swamp he found what appeared to be a huge fresh footprint.

"Right here is the heal of the foot. It is relatively light pressure. There are four toes. It is kind of twisted a little."

[ image: Possible photo of the Skunk Ape]
Possible photo of the Skunk Ape
Could the print have been made by the blob in the middle of a photograph taken by a firechief, who is not prone to flights of fancy?

The firechief describes what he saw: "It took long steps, kind of like a man, but it wasn't a bear. A lot of people thought it was a bear, but a bear doesn't go on two, it goes down on four."

Miami based scientist Bob Carr and professional tracker, TL Riggs, believe the creature could be a new species that is part man, part beast, and possibly a near cousin of Homo sapiens.

[ image: Copy of a Skunk Ape footprint]
Copy of a Skunk Ape footprint
"This may be one of the last great mysteries of nature left in the 20th century. And what is there is important for us to know in terms of understanding more about our world, but it is also important to preserve it and maintain its integrity."

Sceptics say the Skunk Ape may be nothing more than a big man in a gorilla party suit. If that is the case the hoaxer is playing a dangerous game, because this is hunting territory and round here they shoot to kill.

[ image: David Shealey sells souvenirs]
David Shealey sells souvenirs
Some disbelievers point the finger at David Shealey, who runs a mini roadside zoo and a gift shop full of Skunk Ape memorabilia.

"It would be nice to think it was good for business but through it all I have yet to have anybody come through my door looking for a Skunk Ape."

[ image: Tour of the Everglades]
Tour of the Everglades
Members of the Micosukkee Indian tribe who offer tourist trips around the everglades believe the Skunk Ape should be left in peace.

The National Parks Service says the creature doesn't exist, but the service is part of the US Government, which has always been 'full and frank' about other mysteries such as UFOs, Gulf War syndrome and Monica Lewinsky.

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