Official Reportedly Explains Away “Orangutan”

Posted by: Loren Coleman on November 17th, 2007

Or does he?

As often happens after a clear, concise sighting of something remarkable that then cannot easily be captured, a state or government authority, contrary to local officials, is quoted by the media in an attempt to “explain away” the reports.

Charles Fort called this the “Wipe,” for it was a frequent technique for disposing of the uncomfortable reality of the data that would not disappear. It often was the media trying to move on from the story, as much as the quoted “expert.”

In the recent case from Florida, those that reported the “orange or red ape” in a tree did not say it was a Bigfoot or a Skunk Ape, but merely it looked like an ape, perhaps an orangutan.

Let’s break this down, very precisely.

The eyewitnesses included a couple men, one Rock Rohden who was interviewed with his family later by the media. These men first contacted officials; the media showed up a few days later.

Let us not forget this was a confirmed sighting. On November 2, 2007, these two men called Baker County animal control to report seeing what appeared to be a large ape in a tree off Harry Rewis Road, north of Macclenny, Florida.

After the men called, Tina Thomas, an animal control officer in Baker County, responded. She was skeptical.

“We got this call and this man said, ‘You are just not going to believe this and I’m not crazy.’ I said, ‘What is it? We’ve heard a lot of things.’ He said, ‘I have a monkey in my tree.'” Thomas said. “I thought the man was on drugs. I said, ‘Are you sure?’ He was like, ‘I’m telling you I’m not on drugs and I ain’t been drinking.'”

When animal control officer Tina Thomas got to the scene, she saw the animal and realized the caller was right. She confirmed seeing a “big red fur ball” — apparently an ape — sitting in a tree. She said she saw an orange-colored ape sitting in a tree that was “much larger than a spider monkey.”

“I wouldn’t have believed it, but I saw it with my own eyes,” she said.

Not equipped with the proper training to handle such an exotic animal, Thomas said she immediately called the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission to send an officer out.

“We got the binoculars and could see the whole body of the ape. He was red with a lighter color face,” Thomas said.

About 100 feet up in a tree, the ape fit the description of an orangutan. She said the ape was about 50 pounds, 3 or 4 feet tall and was curled up, nesting in a pile of leaves.

Now, faced with not being able to find or capture the animal, later in the week, what is the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission saying it was? A squirrel.


If one of the reasons (see below) for “explaining away” this “red ape” is because it is nocturnal, then why did Fish and Wildlife’s Ken Holmes (see below) pick a diurnal fox squirrel (Sciurus niger)? Flying squirrels are nocturnal, fox squirrels are diurnal.

One last footnote: Yes, while primates generally are diurnal, intriguingly, within cryptozoology, there is one large reddish primate that is nocturnal and reported from Florida ~ the anthropoid Skunk Apes.

Sorry, I just had to bring that up, and I wonder, therefore, was Ken Holmes misquoted in the following article about the red ape = fox squirrel? This might be a real possibility, since it was Holmes who said he was called by a “Bigfoot researcher” who wanted to convince Holmes there are reports of “juvenile Bigfoots” in Florida. Holmes said he answered all of that “Bigfooter’s” questions but it was Holmes that “almost wanted to correct him that the proper term in Florida is ‘Skunk Apes.’ ”

Perhaps there is more to this story than meets the eye?

Here’s the article:

Stories of an orange, furry animal in the woods of Baker County eating up jelly doughnuts and resembling an orangutan – and mythbusters forbid, even Bigfoot – spread like wildfire as media got a hold of the tale.

Turns out all the hoopla was probably about an orange phase fox squirrel, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission announced Friday.

Fish and Wildlife investigator Ken Holmes said the creature is not behaving like a primate, especially with its nocturnal activity.

“I’m not discounting anything. However, this creature, whatever it may be, simply isn’t acting like a primate,” Holmes said in a statement.

On Oct. 30, Holmes said he got a call about the mystery animal stealing the sweet snacks from a bear hunter who lives near Macclenny. Holmes looked into the tall pine tree and saw something 100 feet up moving around but couldn’t confirm if it was an ape, squirrel, monkey, raccoon or even a cat.

So Holmes decided to lay doughnuts at the base of the tree to lure the creature out. The animal left but wasn’t seen or captured.

From the way he was eating the doughnuts, Holmes said it probably wasn’t an ape.

“Orangutans are messy eaters. If the animal were an orangutan, you would expect to find pieces of donuts or fruit scattered all over the place, rather than just neatly nibbled,” Holmes said.

Holmes said it’s very unlikely someone in the area owned an orangutan, which requires a commercial permit in Florida. He said he’s seen a lot of unusual animals owned in captivity such as tigers and chimpanzees, but orangutans are expensive to own.

“I’ll be astonished if it’s an orangutan. I can quite confidently say it’s probably not an orangutan,” he said.

Earlier this month, Baker County Animal Control received a report of two men seeing an ape in a tree off Harry Rewis Road in Macclenny, Parker said.

Tina Thomas, an animal control officer in Baker County, said she saw an orange-colored ape sitting in a tree that was “much larger than a spider monkey.”

A Bigfoot research commission also called Holmes to ask about the creature.

Holmes told the Times-Union Friday afternoon that it’s interesting how these rumors get started. He said once a woman called him about a full African lion – mane and all – in her bushes. Turns out it was a chow dog.

“I told her I guess I could see that at 1 in the morning it’s pretty dark and you could make a mistake,” he said.

Holmes said he doesn’t want to say anyone is lying but “the mind can play tricks on you” and animals can look like a lot of different things depending on the viewpoint. ~ by Adam Aasen, “Mystery creature in Baker County not monkey or Bigfoot – likely just a squirrel,” The Times-Union, Jacksonville, Florida, November 16, 2007.

Thanks to Chad Arment for the indicator about this item.

(While it is still online, see the New 4 video report with the interview with Rohden and Thomas, click here.)

Loren Coleman About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading living cryptozoologist. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013. He returned as an infrequent contributor beginning Halloween week of 2015. Coleman is the founder in 2003, and current director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.

29 Responses to “Official Reportedly Explains Away “Orangutan””

  1. Lisa62 responds:

    They look through binoculars, and see an ape. And it’s explained away as a squirrel. DANG! Must have been one big squirrel. We have brown ones in our trees, and no one has EVER mistaken them for apes. How big do Florida squirrels get???

  2. Valen responds:

    So, I guess Florida squirrel hunters better be packing AK-47s after reading this?
    Squirrel… yeah, right. I’m surprised they didn’t say it was a weather balloon.

  3. rbhess responds:

    Sheesh that’s a big-ass squirrel… steroids maybe? The Barry Bonds of the nut-gathering community…

    Well…. Florida has big bugs… why not big squirrels?

    Of course we all have to realize that people can make mistakes. But it stretches creduility a tad to argue that more than one witness–one of whom is an animal control officer—can see something and get the identification so completely wrong. This isn’t the same as seeing Venus one night and thinking you’re actually witnessing the Arrival of the Mothership.

    No no…. I’ll admit people do get excited sometimes to the point where they convince themselves they’re seeing some off-the-wall thing… but mistaking an indigenous species of squirrel for a hefty primate… well… either human beings really are the worst at judging the natural world (which would seem to contradict our historically proven and hard-earned place at the top of the food chain) or else that probably wasn’t a squirrel, guys.

    Now, if somebody produces said squirrel tomorrow–a huge, orange, fat squirrel–then we must eat some crow.

    Crows are black, by the way. And look like birds.

  4. squatch-toba responds:

    How does this so called expert know the “messy” eating habits of orangs’?? Is it common to use doughnuts as squirrel bait?? I agree with Lisa62 ,they looked at it with binoculars…c’mon …I can’t understand why these sightings are always made to look more bizzare by the people who are supposed to make sense of them. Hey, I just thought of something…maybe it was a squirrel with mange!!!!!! Problem solved…

  5. Jjm3233 responds:

    I grew up in neighboring Clay and Putnam counties, and hunted squirrels. I have a hard time believing that any resident would confuse a fox squirrel for an Orangutan, much less an animal control officer. Fox squirrels are everywhere, so this is not an exotic, non-native animal sighting. Trust me, if this doesn’t do it, you’ll get a good dose of local “rednecks” giving their support.

  6. bill green responds:

    this is a very interesting new article about florida orangutan or ape. thanks bill green

  7. Atticus responds:

    We all know that pet pythons get released in the Everglades.To me, it would be feasible that someone may have released a pet Orangutan in there as well.

    I just cant fathom how they can say its a squirrel. I’ve never heard of a squirrel 3-4 feet tall and weighing 50 lbs.

  8. Alligator responds:

    Bizarre. This demonstrates how hard it is to get to the truth of anything. The media is sloppy, wants to move on to the next story, no follow up and maybe doesn’t even quote people right. I’ve been interviewed a few times in my career, carefully stated my position only to see it “butchered” in the next day’s paper. Consequently, I hate talking to the media about anything.

    Fish & Wildlife’s statement is pretty bizarre too, considering what every witness saw. If squirrels could be that easily misidentified, we should have hundred of reports of primates in that part of the country!

    Leaving jelly donuts for bait? Let’s see, raccoons, skunks, armadillos, opossums and the neighborhood dogs would probably have a feast before the ape could even consider getting down. I still tend to think that someone had an illegal orangutan that escaped or was dumped. But with this caliber of news reporting and investigation by government officials, how can we who are no where near the scene really find out what went on?


  9. jerrywayne responds:

    I’m not sure we should rush to judge this story a “wipe” job. On the surface, the official explanation seems at odds with accounts given by witnesses. This is true. Is there any way to reconcile the explanation with the accounts?

    First, the witnesses say they saw an ape (or monkey) high up in a tree. They said they even viewed such with binoculars. One witness claimed to see a “big red fur ball” and offered a weight and height estimate. This is odd since how may one really ascertain the size and weight of an unknown animal 100 feet up in a tree?

    Second, an investigator arrived and apparently saw the same thing everyone else saw. Yet he says he couldn’t tell what it was, be it primate, rodent, or whatever.

    We probably will never know exactly what happened. It is possible that an initial witness perceived “a monkey” in the tree and other witnesses were influenced by his perception.

    This is a possibility, but that is all it is until we know more.

    I prefer to be cautious about such accounts. I may be stoned for heresy here, but folks should take the following into account:

    1. There should be no orangutans in the wild in Florida (which is not to say such cannot exist).
    2. “Skunk apes” are not known to exist. Perhaps they exist: perhaps they are regional and cultural myths.
    3. Apparently, fox squirrels do exist in this part of the world.

    Cryptozoologists really should look closer at the eyewitness issue, for it seems to be a the heart of many crypto beliefs. Can “sightings” alone carry the day?

    I recently experienced a eyewitness event that may prove instructive. At work, a co-worker told me to go outside and look in the front lawn. He knows I have an interest in the natural world. In the front lawn was a red-tail hawk who had captured a squirrel. My co-worker and I watched, no further than 20 yards away, as the hawk tried to fly away with his captured prey. The hawk would fly only 15 or twenty feet, and then land with the squirrel. The bird did this several times until it was over 100 yards away and my co-worker and I went back to work. Now what was odd about this?

    I was surprised later to find out what my co-worker was saying about our “sighting”. He told others that the hawk had caught a squirrel and the squirrel was putting up such a fight that the hawk couldn’t fly away with it.

    I witnessed the same event he did, this is what I saw: the squirrel was deader than a doorknob and the hawk couldn’t carry it off, I thought, because it was too heavy.

    We both saw the same thing, only yards away and one of our versions of the event was openly false.

  10. cmgrace responds:

    Squirrel, seriously? I am no expert, and I can tell the difference between a squirrel and an “ape-like” creature, even from so far away. Can you imagine how big this squirrel would actually have to be in order for someone to give a height and weight estimate of that size from 100 yards away?

  11. Unknown Primate responds:

    The dreaded SASQUIRRELTCH! Sorry…

  12. michaelm responds:

    I’m gonna say a group of otters, with mange, wearing a orangutan suit…

  13. showme responds:

    We have many squirrels where I live, but they are never visible when they are in their nests (they go inside them, rather than sit on them). The witness report by the two men described the animal as sitting on the nest. They also described the face as being lighter in color, like an orangutan’s. Fox squirrels, to my knowledge, have the same color on their faces as their bodies.

    As for the “wipe”… if this was an orangutan, it had to be owned by a wealthy person in the area. Perhaps this person was a prominent individual who didn’t want it revealed that he obtained this pet illegally, and aslo had enough pull with the local authorities to sweep the story under the rug.

  14. traveler responds:

    I know I have seen fox squirrels, red squirrels, and apes. I do not see how they can be confused.

  15. jules responds:

    Uh Hu?! I saw a big racoon yesterday –
    but after reading that, maybe I could have seen a caterpillar!

  16. marksquatch responds:

    Official governmental or state denials of what is obviously reality are a common occurrence in Fortean events. It’s a very common theme is Fortean topic of study in its own right, in my opinion.

    I think it’s connected with officialdom’s fears of upsetting the status quo: The governmental state’s role is to maintain the status quo (at least that seems to be how it’s seen) and so anything which threatens this status quo must be rejected or officially denied.

  17. joel911 responds:

    Or….Perhaps the Fish & Wildlife service KNOW there is an orang on the loose, and don’t want dozens of people with cameras (or guns) tramping around trying to photo or shoot the thing. So they release a statement saying its a case of mistaken ID and was a squirrel to calm people (and the media down) and give them time to do a proper investigation, and possible capture.

    I mean seriously, in the light of the recent media flap over “Jacob’s Creature” can you really blame the Fish & Wildlife service for issuing a statement to try and deflect curiosity seekers. They’ve already had a call from a bigfoot researcher already, so maybe the want to avoid having more of those.

    That’s just my two cents. I wont be surprised if we read an article in a few weeks that the F&W have captured an oragutan that someone had been keeping as an “exotic” pet and it escaped.

    By the way I live in Iowa, and last Wed a sherriff shot a tiger that someone had been keeping as a “pet”. The thing had gotten loose, killed a neighbors dog, and the sherriff arrived and shot it. So if someone can be keeping a tiger as “pet” in Iowa, I have no problem believing in Florida, a state with 7 times our population, and far more millionaires, that SOMEONE could easily have an orang as an “exotic pet” and it escaped. People are keeping some pretty funky animals as “pets” these days.

  18. Cryptonut responds:

    Sounds like we either have an Orange Ape, or we have a new 50 lb. squirrel….exciting news either way 😉

  19. vance responds:

    High folks,
    My name is Vance and I live in West Cocoa Florida. I didn’t have to see what they describe here in there report to know what these folks saw. It was a Skunk Ape. The description was too far on to be anything but. The only thing that I think is off is the body weight if it was indeed 3-4ft. in height. That would put it at more like 80lbs.
    I don’t have any proof or evidence what so ever for what I am writing here. I am a 7th generation Floridian. I grew up on Lake Poinsett and the St. Johns River basin all my life.
    Us that hunt or have spent anytime in the remotes know that there is a Skunk Ape as well as the little ones we call the Swamp Monkeys. The mystery to us is not that there is such a thing – we know it but, what they are… I grew up with this knowledge it was pretty matter of fact growing up out here. When we where young, one way to keep us as children from going to far out here was to remind us of the Skunk Apes to scare us in close for when it was time to get to the house lol. My first sighting was at the age of 14 in my Great Uncle Vance’s orange groves in a small town called Bithlo. It was in the summer and my folks used to send me to help the old man in the groves when school was out. Up in one grapefruit tree sat a Swamp Monkey. It didn’t see me nor apparently didn’t hear me walking up through the grove. That sucker was gone as soon as I saw it lol. We made eye contact must’ve been less than one second it was moving. From one tree to the next it was gone that quick. I fired at it with an automatic 22. cal. LR pistol as I wasn’t mature enough I guess to know better than that. I sure didn’t hit it that’s for sure. I actually got in trouble for the shot. Not for shooting at it but for missing. Wasting a 22. round with out hitting was a no no in my youth. They cost money you know. I was issued the 22. every time I worked in the field because Rattlers just love the groves in the summer. In the last 40+ yrs. I have seen both Skunk Apes and Swamp Monkeys many times. By now, I believe they are both the same animals. Though most people who are willing to describe them say the look like Orangutans, I say they are more like a Baboon.
    The reason I say this is because when they are young (I never saw one smaller than 3-4ft. so young is relative I guess) you can see the red padding on there butts – lol, I know it sounds crazy but that is the way it is – sorry. Just like the red padding you see on the baboons in the zoos. Swamp Monkeys are indeed red or orange depending on the lighting during the sighting. Skunk Apes are Black or brown again depending on the lighting when sighted. Well, like I said, I don’t expect anyone to believe me at all nor do I care.
    I just wanted you folks to know that there are those of us here who know that they are out there and the only mystery is what they actually are. No one here calls them “Bigfoot” I think that is used by researchers of such things from anywhere but Florida lol. If you folks would like to see one for yourself, go to Loren’s website. The Myakka Ape photo is of a Skunk Ape. I know, I know what is looks like but I am not a biologist. It is simply a Skunk Ape to us who know.
    Good day to all,

  20. joe levit responds:

    I don’t know about a skunk ape in this case. Maybe. But, as someone who has reported about the illegal animal trafficking trade in this country, it wouldn’t surprise me a bit to have an abandoned orangutan as the “culprit” in this case. No one mistakes an ape for a squirrel. It just doesn’t happen.

  21. mystery_man responds:

    Maybe it was a mangy squirrel. And the kangaroo was probably otters. Well, seeing how orangutans and squirrels bear a remarkable resemblance, I can see how someone could make this kind of mistake. Sigh. I am more prepared to believe that someone made the whole story up or that an unlicensed exotic was released or escaped than believe that someone could have mistaken a squirrel for an orangutan or any other large ape. Come on now. There is witness misidentification which undoubtedly happens and then there is to me a highly implausible scenario like that. How is a person mistaking a squirrel for an orangutan any more plausible than them making the story up or that this was an exotic? I would be wary of shoehorning this sighting into the squirrel explanation at this point in time.

  22. cryptidsrus responds:

    I have to disagree with MYSTERY_MAN on this one. If Ms. Thomas saw it, she would know what an ape would look like. And as everyone else has stated, it was through binoculars, for Pete’s sake.

    Thanks VANCE for your story and your testimony.

    It could be the government involved in this one. HAs happened before with Sasquatch sightings. Maybe that is why they’re trying to keep it quiet.

  23. marksquatch responds:

    > It could be the government involved in this one. HAs
    > happened before with Sasquatch sightings. Maybe that is
    > why they’re trying to keep it quiet.

    Any suggestions as to the nature of the possible government involvement?

  24. showme responds:

    Government cover-up possibilities:

    1. Could be a orangutan former spy for the CIA that knows too much.

    2. Could be a “super orangutan” secret weapon developed by the military to scare away illegal immigrants.

    3. Could be a runaway NASA test subject that would embarass
    the agency into admitting they still launch apes into space.

  25. jules responds:

    That’s it! An ape fell from space!
    Just kidding. I am very optimistic about cryptozoology; sometimes I must use a little levity about the ridiculous stuff.
    Nobodody can mix up a squirrel with an ape – unless they are using the binoculars backwards.

  26. AtomicMrEMonster responds:

    I’ve heard that another name for the fox squirrel is the “monkey-faced squirrel.” Although I was leaning towards the orangutan theory, that factoid makes me think that I should investigate fox squirrels further…

    I just wish we knew how thick the branches were up in the tree when that animal control officer saw the “big red fur ball” nesting in leaves was. That’d be one way to put the squirrel vs. orangutan issue to the test.

  27. darkshines responds:

    Otters. Swimming in a line.

  28. DARHOP responds:

    It’s official, according to the Official. Imagine that. Kinda funny how the other Official, being animal control officer Tina Thomas saw a 3-4 ft. 50 lb. animal. I think even being only an animal control officer she would know the difference between a squirrel and an ape like creature. She must be feeling real official right about now. After the real Officials have more or less told her she doesn’t know what she is talking about. By saying that this was a squirrel. Don’t think I would give my opinion any more if I were her. Think I’d just say, yep, you got something in that tree alright. Oh, and one hundred feet really isn’t that far away. Especially for binocs.

  29. mystery_man responds:

    More like squirrels, climbing in a line. 🙂

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