Man Beasts and UFOs
Man Beasts and UFOs (Part 1 of a 2 part series) By Jonathan Downes cMarch 1999
In early 1998 I was in Florida. Florida is a particularly peculiar part of the United States because in many ways it does not seem to relate to the rest of the country at all. Large proportions of the population are of Hispanic origin and speak Spanish rather than English as their mother tongue. It is a land of hurricanes and swamps, crack-cocaine and alligators, cable television, fast food and mosquitoes. Not surprisingly it is also a land full of monsters.
The immortal Ivan T. Sanderson, who according to your particular belief system was either a genius or a madman (or perhaps both) lived in the area for many years and is responsible for reports of a giant pink newt-like creature, and a the footprints of a giant penguin (which turned out in 1988 to be a hoax promulgated by a local resident with a juvenile sense of humor). Florida is also the home of the exceedingly rare Florida Panther (actually a sub-species of puma which has adapted to life in The Everglades), and to their own version of Bigfoot which is known as the skunk ape.
The "Skunk Ape" is a well known phenomenon across Florida and many thousands of words have been written about it. This article, taken almost at random from our archives was printed in the Miami Herald in September 1997:
"OCHOPEE -- Someone -- or something -- was lurking in the dark, mysterious swamp just a few steps away from the old gravel road in the heart of cypress stands about 40 miles west of Miami. A small group of British tourists and their tour guide swear to that.
They reported seeing the hulking, ape-like creature lurking one afternoon last week behind a veil of Spanish moss that drips from the towering cypress trees at the swampy edges of Turner River Road. Could it be . . . the skunk ape? That's right, the skunk ape.
Florida's Bigfoot, the Sasquatch of the Swamp, the Abominable Snowman of the subtropics, the Yeti of the Glades. A distant cousin of the more famous apemen of the northlands, the skunk ape's reported description usually closely follows those of its primitive relatives: about seven feet tall, flat-faced, broad-shouldered, covered with long hair or fur and -- of course -- reeking of skunk.
In recent weeks, several people have phoned in reports of creatures that fit that description to officials at Big Cypress National Preserve. The reports were believed to be the first since a flurry of skunk ape sightings in Southeast Florida 20 years ago.
Vince Doerr, chief of the Ochopee Fire Control District, saw a strange creature cross Burns Road near his home last Monday morning. "I was riding along when, 800 feet ahead of me, a brown-looking tall thing ran across the road," Doerr said. "It wasn't a bear -- that's for sure. It ran into the woods."
Doerr said he grabbed his camera and snapped away, but he thinks the creature was too far away for a good shot. He hasn't developed the film yet. Another tourist attraction: There were also reports from tour operators who travel one of South Florida's best places to see wildlife -- Turner River Road. The unpaved state highway cuts through a slough crowded with bald cypress trees laden with Spanish moss and spidery air plants.
Dow Rowland, 54, a guide for Everglades Day Safari, said he was hauling six British tourists up Turner River Road last week when they spotted the apeman loping along the cypress trees on the west side of the road, about two miles north of Tammy Trail.
"It was about six feet tall with brown, long fur," Rowland said. "It loped along like a big monkey or a gorilla, then it disappeared into the woods." Big guy gets around! Rowland said his group was not the first to see the apeman this summer.
"There was a sighting from the Naples Trolley Tour out of Marco Island," Rowland said. "That driver was really shook up." David Shealy, 33, owner of Florida Panther Gift Shop on Tamaimi Trail here, has a theory about why the skunk ape has shown itself lately.
"The mosquitoes have been so bad this year that they probably ran the skunk ape out of the mangroves," said Shealy, who claims to have seen the ape at a distance many years ago and sees its large, mushy footprints in the mud during hunting seasons.
Maybe it's a conspiracy: The tales go back decades in South Florida. "There were rumors in the 1960s of a Bigfoot or a really large skunk ape being held by the armed services at . . . Everglades National Park," wildlife biologist George Dalrymple said.
The ape escaped by ramming itself through a concrete block wall, as the story went. Some investigators made plaster casts of its prints, but those casts are top secret, probably locked away in federal vaults, Dalrymple said with a sly wink.
Sightings of the skunk ape were most frequent in the 1970s in the wake of 1967 film that allegedly showed Bigfoot strolling the California woods and a flurry of news reports of Sasquatch sightings in the Pacific Northwest. Not coincidentally, this was also the time in Southeast Florida when developers were working their way west into the Everglades, bringing newcomers -- suburbanites -- into close contact with country folks who spent their weekends at hunting or fishing camps in the marshes.
"Back when everybody had camps out there, people would come back to town with stories," said J.A. Wasilewski, a biologist who once worked at Everglades Holiday Park, the airboating and fishing stop on U.S. 27 in western Broward. "People were seeing shadowy things, but that was usually after a couple six-packs of Bud out there in the swamp."
Endangered habitat: The stories have faded as the marshes and the camps have disappeared under suburban pavements. The sightings in the untamed swamps now being reported in Southwest Florida, which is now experiencing a housing development and tourism boom of its own.
Richard Greenwell, secretary of the International Society of Cryptozoology in Tuscon, Ariz., a group that investigates reported sightings of animals unknown to science, expects there'll always be reports of sightings of strange creatures somewhere.
"We live in a world where everything is structured by technology and predictable things," Greenwell said. "People like to know that in this modern, humdrum world, there still unknown places. Still places wild enough to harbor animals still unknown to science."
Send the suit to the cleaners: To be sure, not everyone is curious. Ron Clark, leader of Big Cypress' resource management team, said the preserve doesn't investigate skunk ape sightings. "I think we're safe in assuming that there are probably no previously unclassified primates roaming the Big Cypress," Clark said.
"We think somebody's playing a prank on our tourists."
Doerr and Rowland both believe what they saw was probably a man in a gorilla suit. "If I thought it was real, I would have run in there, beat it to death and sold it to the National Enquirer," Doerr said. "I think it's just somebody playing games."
In February 1998, Jonathan Downes was in Fort Lauderdale, Florida taking part in a radio phone in programme ostensibly about mystery animals, including the skunk ape. One caller, identifying herself only as `Denise` described her encounter with a chimpanzee-like creature that made a peculiar hooting noise and other callers also described their experiences. It soon became apparent that the `skunk ape` was as real to the inhabitants of Southern Florida as are the big cats which still roam the moorlands of south-western England to the farmers of Bodmin Moor. Unlike the so-called Beast of Bodmin, however, it was also apparent that most of the people who had encountered the `creature` were of the opinion that it was supernatural in nature rather than a flesh and blood animal. Several callers linked it with the local practice of Santeria - a voodoo-like religion practiced all over the Caribbean by descendants of slaves, and other people that we met within the staff of the radio station itself linked it strongly with the UFO reports which had been prevalent in the area over the previous few years.
Across the Hispanic world the chupacabra has become a media phenomenon which is no longer explicable within purely cryptozoological or even fortean zoological terms. In America, however, either because the chupacabra appeals to something intrinsically tacky within the national psyche, or more probably (and less overtly xenophobically on my part) because citizens of the United States per se have a larger disposable per capita income than do the inhabitants of the other places where El Chupacabra is reported to roam the commercial exploitation of the phenomenon has been far greater.
The following excerpt is taken from his diary of the expedition:
"Still on the track of El Chupacabra we were filming in Sweetwater, a particularly innocuous suburb of Miami where, allegedly at least, the first Chupacabra killings on the mainland of the United States had taken place. The original witness was not available to see us, and as our schedule was tight we had to be content with interviewing the UFO investigator who had first collated the evidence of the killings."
The original news report read:
Miami- When police arrived at the crime scene they had never seen such carnage. Lifeless victims - 69 in all - lay strewn across the yards of two families in Sweetwater, a heavily Hispanic neighborhood in south Miami. But it was a Miami massacre with a difference - a case perhaps for Ace Ventura, Pet Detective.
The victims were all animals - goats, chickens, geese and ducks. Who - or what - could have done such a dastardly thing? The killer, say police and a local zoologist, was a large dog. Wrong, say local residents. It was the chupacabras, the Caribbean's very own Bigfoot, except this creature is a vampire-like predator whose name literally means "Goatsucker" in Spanish. Don't be surprised if you haven't heard of the chupacabras.
Until this month it had never been seen or heard of outside Puerto Rico, the U.S. island commonwealth of 4-million people. For the past six months, the hideous bloodsucking beast with an oval-head and bulging red-eyes - part reptile, part insect, part UFO alien - allegedly has been terrorizing the island's central mountains. But after the slaughter in Sweetwater, the chupacabras has firmly established a place in the annals of Miami make-believe. It may sound like something out of Star Trek, but it has gripped more than just the imagination of Hispanic Miami. For those who believe in the chupacabras, the fear is real. In some cases the attack on livestock has caused serious economic loss.
One Sweetwater woman claims to have seen it, and there have been alleged chupacabras attacks in other parts of Miami. The beast has developed a large following in Latino communities across the United States, from New Jersey to California. Authorities are taking the killings seriously - up to a point. A specialist has investigated the deaths, and a county commissioner has called for a police inquest. "It's mushroomed way out of proportion," says Ron Magill, assistant curator at MetroDade zoo. "I'm sitting here literally in shock."
Chupacabras has aroused great interest, and discussion - some of it less than serious - on the Internet, where it has its own home page, complete with sketches created by a Princeton University history student. "This has turned out to be a new kind of folklore," said the student, Hector Armstrong, a native of Puerto Rico. There is even talk of a video-game spin-off, he says. It already has become big business: There are T-shirts, a chupacabras sandwich, live morning radio and a Spanish pop song with a chorus that roughly translated goes like this: "Gotta have fun and party. In case the Goatsucker gonna get me." Last week English-language radio got in on the act when the popular station Y-100 ran a week-long "search of the elusive chupacabras!" offering a $1,000 prize for a real photo of the creature. The station made its own mock effort, sending a reporter into the Sweetwater woods dressed in a goat costume.
The chupacabras coverage was a hit. One of Latin America's most watched Spanish-language TV chat shows, Cristina, which is recorded in Miami where it has a large audience, gave credence to the "chupacabras phenomenon" with an hour-long program on it Monday. On the show was Jose "Chemo" Soto, the mayor of Canovanas, a town in Puerto Rico where the chupacabras supposedly has claimed more than 100 victims. Soto, who is running for re-election, offered viewers this grim warning: "Whatever it is, it's highly intelligent. Today it is attacking animals, but tomorrow it may attack people." A former police detective, Soto is known to locals as "Chemo (Indiana) Jones," for his quest to capture the mysterious creature. Using caged goats as bait, Soto leads a weekly monster hunt of local volunteers who patrol the town's surrounding hills - so far to no avail. Also interviewed on Cristina: a vet from Puerto Rico - nicknamed Dr. Chupacabras - who claims the wounds he has examined on alleged victims of the beast are "totally abnormal" fang-like punctures. Others on the program included an extraterrestrial philosopher and a writer on UFOs, who believe the chupacabras was sent from another planet to Puerto Rico.
According to Jorge Martin, publisher of Evidencia, a magazine on UFO research, aliens are drawn to Puerto Rico by the Arecibo Observatory, the world's largest radio-radar telescope. The killings, whatever their cause, are a serious problem that has frightened many people in Puerto Rico and Miami. This has been fueled by a number of eyewitness accounts from seemingly credible people. At least 15 Canovanas residents claim to have had a close encounter with the monster. "I was looking off the balcony one night, and I saw it step out of a bright light in the back yard," said Michael Negron, a 25-year-old college student. "It was about 3 or 4 feet tall with skin like that of a dinosaur. It had bright red eyes the size of hens' eggs, long fangs and multi- colored spikes down its head and back." The creature reportedly disemboweled the family goat, draining the blood from its neck.
Some theories - and eyewitness accounts - are harder to believe than others. Consider the latest sighting in the Puerto Rican town of Caguas, where the chupacabras allegedly entered a bedroom window and mauled a stuffed teddy bear, leaving a "puddle of slime." Critics say the hysteria has been whipped up by sensationalist media that are eager to promote the legend as part of a sales or rating drive. Puerto Rico is a fertile market for such bizarre tales, due to widespread Afro-Caribbean cultural and religious beliefs that involve animal sacrifices and blood rituals. Officials say folk monster tales are hard to combat with rational explanations.
Just ask Magill, the Miami zoologist. When he attended the Sweetwater slaying, he pointed out to residents what he believes to be incontrovertible proof the killer was a large dog, maybe 50 pounds in weight, or more. "They were just totally not listening," he said. On inspection he found the bite marks were "classic canine punctures from dogs." As for the vampire theory, "Contrary to the popular belief, all the animals were full of blood." He demonstrated this on one dead goat. "I took a knife and cut into the carotid artery and blood came out of the carcass." He also showed where he believes a dog dug its way under the garden fence. "It was a classic dog digging. You could see all the dirt pushed back and dog hair on the bottom of the fence." Magill was able to identify footprints as being that of a dog. Residents wanted to know why none of the animals had been eaten. Again he points to what he calls the "classic m.o." of dog attacks. "Dogs don't kill for food, they kill for fun. It's a thrill." For Magill the scene was a deja vu experience. Two years earlier, dogs killed 15 antelopes at the zoo in the same fashion. But Magill says all his explanations were for naught. Local residents were enthralled by heavy media attention that day.
An older woman came out of the house and turning to a group of TV cameras demonstrated how she had confronted the chupacabras. "It stood up on two legs and was hunched over like this with big arms and looked at me with these red eyes," the woman said. "I just said, "Oh jeez, here we go,' " says a discouraged Magill. "As soon as she did that every news media camera zoomed in on her. That was the footage they played over and over again." Part Cuban, and fluent in Spanish, Magill understands the cultural sensitivity of older people in the Hispanic community over their religious and cultural beliefs. He even believes in UFOs and extraterrestrial life forms. "I'm not one of those pure scientists who say "No, we are the only ones with the truth and all that stuff is ludicrous,' " he says. "It's just in this case that was not it."
It soon became evident that the animal that had been seen by the original witness (a worker at a suburban rest home for psycho-geriatrics) had very little to do with the main body of chupacabra attacks. The animal she had seen was something like a cross between an ape and a shaggy black dog, and moved semi-bipedally leaving a trail of exsanguinated chickens and turkeys behind it.
We were shown plaster casts which were taken at the time and which purport to be taken from tracks found in the area where the beast was seen. The cast resembles that of a very large dog print, but with one incredible difference! It appears to have the finger nails of a human or an ape rather than the claw marks of a canid. I persuaded our freind Vergilio from the Miami UFO Centre to let me have a copy as a memento, and more by luck than by judgment it arrived safely back in England wrapped in a stolen hotel hand-towel, and as I write is now proudly resting upon the piano in my sitting room."
The cast resembles that of a very large dog print, but with one incredible difference! It appears to have the finger nails of a human or an ape rather than the claw marks of a canid. There is, a long and complicated link between sightings of hairy ape-like creatures and UFO reports in all parts of the world, especially in North and South America, and this is, perhaps, where we should briefly look at some of the reports which are languishing in our files.
One of the most significant events of this type took place in Uniontown, Pennsylvania on October 25th 1973. It was researched by psychiatrist Berthold Eric Schwarz who recounted his findings in The Flying Saucer Review Vol. 20 #1 (1974). (42) The incident began at about nine p.m when 'Stephen Pulaski' (a pseudonym chosen by Schwarz) together with about fifteen other witnesses observed a red light hovering above a field just outside the town. For reasons that (as far as I know) have never been disclosed he collected two ten year old twin boys and went to investigate. As they approached the headlights of their car dimmed mysteriously and the UFO slowly started to descend. It was dome shaped "like a big bubble (....) making a sound like a lawn mower" and the three witnesses, who by this time had got out of their car and were gazing at the apparition in awe, strange screaming sounds could be heard.
Suddenly two strange creatures were revealed in the pulsating light given off by the strange object. Pulaski and his two companions thought that they were bears. The North American Black Bear (Eurarctos americanus) is certainly found in the area but are considerably smaller than the animals described by Pulaski and his friends. According to veteran fortean researchers Loren Coleman and Jerry
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