The Myakka Skunk Ape Photographs
Two remarkable new photographs of what may be a Florida Skunk Ape have been discovered through an interesting chain of events by Sarasota resident and animal welfare specialist David Barkasy. This article will overview how these photographs were taken, how this find surfaced, the first reactions and analyses, and some tentative conclusions.
The circumstances behind the photographs are intriguingly innocent. In early autumn 2000, an elderly couple living near I-75 in Sarasota County, Florida, began to experience routine visits from an apelike animal. On one of these visits, the wife took two relatively clear photographs of the creature. The couple did not know what the animal was, but since her husband said it looked like an orangutan, they called it an orangutan.
The location of these events was near I-75, most likely east of Sarasota, which includes the Myakka River and Myakka State Park.
The woman describes the events leading up to the photographs being taken: “For two nights prior, it had been taking apples that my daughter brought down from up north off our back porch. These pictures were taken on the third night it had raided my apples.”
She went out into her backyard after hearing deep “woomp” noises. She aimed her camera toward the hedgerow at the back of her property and was startled to see what her flash revealed. “I didn’t even see it as I took the first picture because it was so dark. As soon as the flash went off for the second time it stood up and started to move. I then heard the orangutan walk off into the woods.” She noticed that its “awful smell” lasted long after it had left her yard.
Reflecting on what had occurred, she said that the anthropoid “sounded much farther away than it turned out to be.” She thinks she was about ten feet away from it, and it looked like it was crouching, then standing. She notes it is hard to know how big it was, but she would “judge it as being about six and a half to seven feet tall in a kneeling position. As soon as I realized how close it was, I got back to the house.” (Eyewitnesses regularly report larger sizes for animals which are hair-covered and seen in the dark.)
The woman photographer remarks: “It only came back one more night after that and took some apples that my husband left out in order to get a better look at it. We left out four apples. I cut two of them in half. The orangutan only took the whole apples. We didn’t see it take them. We waited up but eventually had to go to bed.” Then they placed a dog in their backyard, and the animal did not return.
The Photographs Surface
According to the evidence provided by the postmark on the envelope, on December 22, 2000, the woman mailed a letter signed “God Bless. I prefer to remain anonymous” to the Sarasota Sheriff’s Department. They received the letter on December 29, 2000, although most people at the sheriff’s office were unaware of it until after the holidays. According to the department’s official report created later, the filing officer wrote: “I received an unusual letter addressed to the animal services of the sheriff’s office. The letter told of an encounter with a monkey or ape and contained two photos. The letter was anonymous.” The animal control officer read the letter which begins: “Enclosed please find some pictures I took.… My husband thinks it is an orangutan. Is someone missing an orangutan?”
The woman was especially concerned, and nothing about “skunk ape” or “Bigfoot” was mentioned in the letter. This was merely a normal person who had a remarkable encounter. She was worried about her grandchildren’s safety and her own. She wanted to alert the police and requested clearly for them to “please look after this situation.”
The matter in which it was treated in the department will be debated for years. Our understanding is that, initially, the letter and photographs were seen as merely an amusing thing to talk about around the office. No file was created; no permanent record was made. The photographs were passed around and there were joking asides.
This began to change when a member of the animal control division contacted David Barkasy, owner of the Silver City Serpentarium in Sarasota, Florida. He was informed that local authorities were matter-of-factly discussing the local “orangutan animal” problem and some interesting photographs had been sent to the department. On January 3, 2001, David was given details about the photographs and a black-and-white photocopy of them was shared with him.
Barkasy, who was aware of Florida’s history of Skunk Ape reports due to his animal welfare interests, felt the photographs he was shown might be firm evidence of the local mystery anthropoids, which he understood were much different from the Pacific Northwest’s Sasquatch and Bigfoot. That night, Barkasy contacted me because I was known as a cryptozoologist and author of several books on mysterious primate reports. He also contacted a Bigfoot email list moderator. Barkasy wanted assistance and opinions on what he had discovered, to explore possible hoaxing, and to make certain that anthropological, zoological, and photographic analyses could be brought to bear on this, if the photographs turned out to be authentic. (Since January 3, David Barkasy and I have talked frequently about the details of the ongoing investigation.)
On January 11, Barkasy was able to borrow photograph no. 2 (the one where the animal begins to pull up and away from the photographer). He made copies and high-quality scans on January 12, returning them to the department the same day. Barkasy was working on gathering all the information he could legally, within the non-official avenues, on the nonofficial photographs. (They did not have a file or case number and were only one day away from being discarded by the department.) He was gaining the trust of the department and getting closer to finding some answers to the who, what, and where of the photographs.
Meanwhile, unknown to Barkasy, someone behind his back independently contacted the department and demanded, as part of the open records laws, copies of the photographs. Barkasy was upset by this and talks of what impact it had on limiting his access to the department and his investigation: “[This person] knew I was in the process of getting copies of both of the pictures one at a time. I had already made copies of the picture with the ape-like creature rising before he called the department. By him doing this, a friend of mine, who works for the department, was reprimanded for letting this happen. He put a good friend of mine’s livelihood in danger for his own personal interest. It was an anonymous report which did not even have a file number at the time. After [his] intrusion, the photos were given a case number. I then had to have a Sheriff’s Department Courier escort me to various copy houses to get copies of the remaining picture.…So much for letting me carry on with my investigation in peace.”
When Barkasy was able to obtain high-quality copies of photograph no. 1 on January 23, 2001, a file had been created on the incident, on January 18. Color photocopies on regular printer paper had also apparently been sent to the email list moderator by then. Barkasy noticed that staple holes, scratch marks, and other damage had occurred to the original photographs. This is an important detail, because later Internet analyses and critics of the photographs would begin to claim that many of these marks were evidence of hoaxing. (People would later see UFOs, running lights, and stars in the skies, but all of these were just scratches and staple holes.)
Although Barkasy’s attempts to discover all the particulars of the photographs were frustrated by the unfolding events, his work led to the eventual surfacing of the photographs. Furthermore, officers were telling him of rumors of an animal bothering neighborhoods in east Sarasota County. Some of Barkasy’s searches in the Myakka neighborhoods had some eventful and humorous outcomes-like the time in early February he was stopped by an officer and frisked to see if he was a burglar checking out homes.
Barkasy also found that no feral apes or lost pets had been reported or recovered. Finally, without talking to Barkasy or me, the moderator used his own small email list to publish the color-copied generations of the photographs on Sunday, February 4, with only the slightest of details on the circumstances of the report. A fuller telling appeared most appropriate at that time, and Barkasy requested that I release all the details as a coherent whole, versus the piecemeal way they were being presented. This article is part of that effort.
Perhaps someplace out there is one of the photographer’s relatives or friends who could lead us, confidentially, to the source of these pictures.
This is an excerpt from Loren Coleman's complete report on the Myakka Ape Photos, which is available exclusively in the May 2001 issue of FATE.