|Is the Ropen a Rhamphorhynchoid Pterosaur?|
|Jonathan Whitcomb, C.C.V.
Certified Court Videographer
Whitcomb Video Productions
Long Beach, California
From 1994 through 2004, at least six Americans have explored Umboi Island (Papua New Guinea), searching for a nocurnal pterosaur-like creature called "ropen." No photographic evidence is yet available, in spite of a purported photo taken by a lady pilot, long ago (apparently lost). Evidence that the ropen is real and resembles a long-tailed pterosaur is almost entirely from eyewitnesses. The strength of this case is not in any one account but in the relationships bet- weeen many accounts.
I began my passionate investigation of the ropen around the summer of 2003. In September of 2004, I found an interpreter on the mainland of Papua New Guinea, and the two of us took a small ship to Umboi Island. In two weeks, I saw nothing, but my interpreter saw the glowing form that we think was the large ropen of the interior of the island. From June, 2005, through June, 2006, I compared notes from all the investigations and wrote my first book, "Searching for Ropens."
A ropen by any other name
After three years of study of eyewitness testimony (and one expedition), I've come to many conclusions. One of them is that the name "duah," (seen on some web pages) is a distortion of the native word "duwas." (In English, many words ending in 's' refer to the plural, but this is unlike most languages.) What's the real difference between a ropen and a duwas? Probably only a difference in language, for Papua New Guinea is a land of hundreds of languages. As far as I know, there is no flying creature known as "duah" in Papua New Guinea, real or unreal. (If mistaken, I hope somebody will correct me.)
The seklo-bali, around Wau, on the mainland, is probably the same creature. The wawanar legend from the small islands southwest of New Britain may come from the ropen as well. We call it by its Umboi Island name, ropen, because Umboi is the main island of investigations.
An important point is that there are not two or three different kinds of pterosaur-like creatures in Papua New Guinea, each with a separate name that distinguishes it from another pterosaur- like creature, at least using the knowledge we now have. (There may be more than one species but our ignorance overshadows our knowledge.)
Three kinds of sightings
Over 90% of the sightings on Umboi are of a distant, fast, glowing form--indistinct. We believe it's an intrinsic bioluminescence for it lasts for close to five to six seconds and is seen consistantly either over a reef or at an altitude of 200-600 feet over land. Night- time is preferred by the ropen.
What I call the "ropen light" phenomenon has been seen by hundreds of people on Umboi. It is said to be faster than birds and the color has been described in so many ways that I tend to think of it as a complex color display. An American investigative explorer who saw it describes the light as "shimmering."
What qualifies the creature as a pterosaur candidate is the description when it is seen up close. It's common to hear "no feathers" or "like a bat" or "long tail." The mouth has been described as beak-like and crocodile-like. Some see a head crest and some see a "flange" or "diamond" on the tail.
The third kind of sighting is rare: the ropen, at night, is seen close enough to show its form and it is glowing. This kind of account is the key that brings together the nocturnal glow and the other pterosaur-like descriptions: We now do not need to rely on the native traditions about the ropen light, for it is shown to be the same creature that has been described like a pterosaur.
Synopsis of some of the eyewitness testimonies
Duane Hodgkinson saw a "pterodactyl" in 1944, near Finschhafen. The wingspan was similar to that of a Piper Tri-Pacer airplane. The tail was at least ten to fifteen feet long. There was a head crest. (Hodgkinson owns a Piper Tri-Pacer and is a flight instructor with over 13,000 hours of flying.)
An Australian couple saw a giant lizard-like creature flying over Perth one evening in 1997. Its "size" was between thirty feet and fifty feet.
Gideon Koro, Wesley Koro, and Mesa Agustin saw a "ropen" flying over the crater lake "Pung" in 1994. Its tail was "seven meter" and its wingspan or wing- size was also seven meters. I didn't realize it while I was interviewing them: natives are not experienced with the concept of "wingspan." It is possible that Gideon was estimating the size of one wing. The dirt drawing he made suggests he was referring to the size of only one wing. They said that the long tail had a "diamond." (This could refer to a flange that has been described by another ropen investigator.) One thing was clear: Gideon was certain about it having no feathers. Also, the mouth was like a "crocodile."
The most popular explanation for the sightings (probably going back to World War II, if not before) is that people see large Flying Fox fruit bats. But with the eyewitness testimonies we now have, this bat-idea is easily shot down. Not one fruit bat glows brightly at night; not one has a tail-length between ten feet and twenty-two feet; not one eats fish; not one robs a human grave to carry off an adult human body; not one has a head like a crocodile; not one has a wingspan between twenty-two feet and fifty feet.
Hallucinations, under the light of these investi- gations, evaporate. Why would an American World War II veteran, an Australian couple, and many natives all hallucinate creatures with similar descriptions? Images from the mind, that may be deceiving someone who is under the influence of a drug, come from the imagination. Even if every- body was hallucinating, they would not see very similar things. People from different cultures would not all hallucinate Rhamphorhynchoid ptero- saurs. And how could all of them hide their drug use or insanity symptoms from the investigators? I have found no evidence of any hallucination.
What about exaggeration? Descriptions of the ropen suggest something like a giant Rhamphorhychoid pterosaur. If size exaggeration reduces a twenty- two foot tail down to an eight-foot tail, however, we get something much closer to Rhamphorhychoid fossils. Fish-eating and grave-robbing habits can hardly be exaggerations of fruit-eating habits of Flying Fox bats. In addition, a five-second flash of bright light can hardly be an exaggeration of a fruit bat with glowing fungus on its body. The possiblilities of exaggeration, though seeming to be useful criticisms, do not reduce the credibility of the idea that this is a long-tailed pterosaur.
Meteors do not fly out to a reef, circle while pretending they're fishing, then fly back to land. They also do not fly horizontally at low altitude. Enough said.
Airplanes do not fly at low altitude, silently, over Umboi Island at night. A firefly cannot shine brightly enought to "light up" a village; it cannot fly faster than birds.
I believe the ropen is a Rhamphorhynchoid pterosaur from the consistant descriptions and relationships between testimonies. Also, alternate explanations are much less believable.
"Searching for Ropens" is published by Bookshelf Press and goes into greater depth, covering topics that in- clude the origin of extinction ideas, details of the expeditions, details of the eyewitness testimonies, and analysis that includes replies to alternate ideas and criticisms.
Jonathan Whitcomb is a forensic videographer. When he is not chasing giant flying dinosaurs, he videotapes people, places, and things for legal firms in Southern California.