Posted by: Loren Coleman on December 15th, 2005
Florida Frank Falls Flat Flinging Follies
After the Tampa Tribune printed a relatively positive article touching on Cryptozoology and the work of cryptozoologist-educator Scott Marlowe, the very same Tampa Tribune decided to publish a highly opinionated, wrong-headed, rebuttal column by Frank Sargeant.
Entitled "Don’t Buy Into Skunk Ape Tale," Sargeant makes it seem like cryptozoologists are out to "sell" something, when, indeed, it’s Sargeant that elevates his discussion to almost a religious debate, somewhat about marketing. Skeptics are like that. They want to ignore the evidence and make it about belief and book sales, something they seem to be wrestling with, not us. As if there is any money in cryptozoology!
Okay, although I have trouble giving some of these guys unnecessary credit for their flights of fancy into supposed "critical thinking," Cryptomundo fans have asked me to write a considered response on this blog. So here goes, my reaction to this column by Florida Frank Sargeant.
First off, there’s Florida Frank’s incorrect use of the names of the cryptids, therefore showing a less that educated knowledge of the field. He says: "But when it comes to skunk apes, sasquatches, big foots, abominable snowmen – it’s just not happening, no matter how many bogus ‘investigators’ go trampling through the woods in search of fodder for yet another book to be sold to the ever-gullible."
Well, he got the spelling of "abominable snowmen" correct, although the standard scientific practice is to capitalize a cryptid’s name to what would be, for example, "Abominable Snowmen," until the species is verified. But it is not "sasquatches" and "big foots" – for both Sasquatch and Bigfoot are the plural and singular forms, and Bigfoot is one word, not two. It is correct, however, to use Skunk Apes as the proper plural form, so Florida Frank got that one somewhat right.
Of course, he does insult readers as "ever-gullible" and demeans authors, all in one stroke. The irony is that here Florida Frank is writing about Skunk Apes. Amazingly, this newspaper man is criticizing book authors for writing volumes about Skunk Apes, Bigfoot, Sasquatch and Yeti, on topics that interest people. Are his employers not interested in selling newspapers through his writing columns on Skunk Apes? Is he not aware his so-called "ever-gullible" readers are individuals that include some of his same readers, as well as law enforcement officers, truck drivers, anthropologists, homemakers, educators, counselors, waitresses, documentary filmmakers, and maybe even members of his own family? I find readers of cryptozoology highly and rightfully skeptical, and most books on cryptozoology, Bigfoot, Yeti, and other mystery primates contain good sections on the hoaxes, mistakes, and misidentifications that are found in the mix. Florida Frank sells his own readers, and book readers everywhere, very short. Give me a thoughtful truck driver any day over a newspaper-columnist-know-it-all.
Next Florida Frank changes geographical locations and biological history to try to show he is a learned cryptozoology critic. What he demonstrates is that he knows little about the subject. He writes: "And no, I’m not forgetting the coelacanth, an allegedly extinct fish that now has been discovered to be fairly common in the depths off some parts of Africa and India."
Are we in the Land of Oz here, reading Florida Frank? The coelacanth was not "allegedly extinct," but until it was discovered in 1938, was most definitely, most assuredly stated to be extinct for 65 million years. That’s hardly "allegedly." It has never been a common fish, and is today seen as "endangered" by my global colleagues working with these rare fish. Coelacanths have been found "off some parts of Africa," yes, but not off India. In 1998-1999, a second species and population was discovered off of Indonesia. Perhaps this columnist has his "India" mixed up with his "Indonesia," as he seems to be short of facts in his crypto-commentary.
As far as statements such as "in the U.S., the odds of a breeding population of gorilla-sized mammals living in complete secrecy is virtually zero," I must ask, to what facts does this Tampa columnist base this on? That 80% of the Pacific Northwest is tree-covered and contain vast wilderness areas? That parts of the East are covered with massive tracts of trees (95% of the land-surface in Maine, for example) and less explored than generally known? That the woodland bison, a large Pleistocene animal thought extinct, was rediscovered in 1960, a mere 50 miles from a Canadian wildlife station that had existed there for years?
As to Florida, this Tampa columnist makes some factually incorrect claims about the Skunk Ape: "There is nowhere in the state that has not been thoroughly trod by man, and there simply is no credible evidence of the skunkeroo – zero, zilch, not a hair, not a footprint."
I won’t get into a shouting match with Florida Frank on whether or not there are parts of the Big Cypress swamp, the Everglades, or even the Myakka State Park that have never been explored, but his information on the Skunk Ape is sadly lacking. There’s an unfortunate local who has gotten a lot of newspaper ink for allegedly hoaxed encounters, apparently bogus photographs, and more, but the Skunk Ape is more than that one individual’s highly publicized fiascoes. Is this the usual source for Florida Frank?
There is a long history of good Skunk Ape sightings by solid citizens, and significant footprint finds by down-to-earth people. Of course, I’ve already dealt with these in my oft-read book, Bigfoot! The True Story of Apes in America. From those that manage the Mormon farm lands around Holopaw to sheriff deputies in the state, many sources of sightings have come forth, especially since the 1940s. The credible evidence, yes, Florida Frank, involves credible footprints discovered by credible people, including knuckle prints (like the imprints left by great apes who use their hands for walking) found by Broward County rabies control officer Henry Ring in 1971. This case was so prominent it was highlighted that year in Sports Illustrated. Sorry Florida Frank missed it. He also appears to not be aware that Hernando County investigators located Skunk Ape tracks in 1965 that showed the distinctive characteristics of a "toe out to the side," as found in non-human primate tracks.
You get the idea. The end of Florida Frank’s column merely disappears into more silliness. This news person has ignorance on his side when he writes: "If there were large creatures as yet unknown to science, it is highly likely some hunter somewhere would have reported one."
Of course, people – including hunters – throughout Florida have seen what today are called Skunk Apes. These encounters are called "sightings" and are reported. But this Tampa columnist must think that the whole notion of Skunk Apes merely developed out of the blue or something. There is no logic to what he says.
Florida Frank goes on to write that "sasquatches (sic), unlike bears and panthers, are not on the protected list. Someone very likely would have shot one-unwisely, to be sure, since it might very well be like the last passenger pigeon or the last dodo bird."
From the hunters I’ve interviewed, people who shoot Bigfoot, Sasquatch, Skunk Ape, and other humanlike cryptids "believe" they will be charged with violations of the Endangered Species act a
nd/or murder of a human being, if the "thing" is found to be near-human. Reassertion from this columnist that the Skunk Apes are not on the protected list of Florida probably should not go unchallenged if his insights on the law are as good as his ones on cryptozoological facts!
Early 20th century intellectual Charles Fort wrote of journalists using a technique he called "The Wipe," in an attempt to broadly sweep away any lingering doubts that a reader might have remaining at the end of their stories on an explainable event.
Columnist Frank Sargeant attempts to use the Wipe with this ending paragraph: "In short, it is probably as likely that you will see Santa Claus coming down your chimney in the next few weeks as you will see the skunk ape stalking across a marshy pond somewhere off a sandy backroad where the condos have not yet been built quite yet."
Sargeant is bringing down the "ridicule curtain," thus, more or less, telling you that you must be crazy if you think there are Skunk Apes. Of course, you might be less than knowledgeable about the Skunk Ape if you take to heart anything that this columnist said. It really is just another example of someone writing for the media that hasn’t done their homework, and seem afraid of not having all the answers.
I certainly don’t know what the Skunk Apes in Florida will turn out to be, but one thing is for certain, they exist outside of the lame logic and denials of this Tampa columnist’s "rebuttal" piece. Yes, Florida Frank, yes, Tampa, yes, Florida, Skunk Apes do exist.
December 16th update
Amazingly, another Tampa Tribune reporter wrote the third article this week on Skunk Apes on the day after Florida Frank’s contribution appeared. Read my response to this latest, Steve Otto’s essay, here.