If the Green Swamp ape actually does exist, its ears must be burning.
Lakeland resident Jennifer Ward went public in November, sharing her description and drawings of a hairy, human-shaped creature she claimed to have seen on the edge of the Green Swamp in August. Ward's tale has reverberated through cyberspace, with links to the original Ledger story and a subsequent Orlando Sentinel article showing up on such sites as Paranormal News, Dr. Mysterian and American Monsters.
Ward has drawn attention from groups that probe the existence of unconfirmed creatures, and she has appeared on three radio shows to discuss what she saw.
"I'm not real surprised people are interested in it," Ward says.
Ward, 30, has discussed her experience with radio hosts at stations in West Palm Beach, Iowa and Jacksonville. She was joined by Scott Marlowe, an instructor with the Winter Haven-based Pangea Institute, which offers classes in archaeology and other areas. The mother of two says disc jockeys at one station treated her story as comedy, and one at the Iowa station questioned her sanity.
"I'd probably think it was real funny, too, if I just heard about it," Ward says. "I just said I can't help what I saw and I can't help what other people think, either."
Marlowe says the disc jockeys seemed prepared to ridicule Ward but seemed impressed by the obvious sincerity in her voice.
"When Jennifer begins to talk, you can tell she's not fabricating this," Marlowe says.
Ward was driving along Tom Moore Road north of Lakeland a few days after Hurricane Charley in August when she saw something in a ditch beside the road. She describes a two-legged creature about eight feet tall and covered in dark fur with light rings around its eyes. She says it seemed to be foraging.
Ward, who had her two daughters in her car, says she watched the creature for 30 seconds or so before driving on. She examined the scene later but found no conclusive evidence of any beast's presence.
Since Ward's story appeared, several neighbors have told her they have seen or heard something strange in the Green Swamp, and she has learned people living along Rock Ridge Road talk about a "gray ape." But none were willing to speak publicly about their experiences.