Still Living

Does only one giant ropen live continuously on Umboi Island?

By Jonathan Whitcomb
I believe that at least a few giant ropens live in Papua New Guinea. So why did I return to the United States (in 2004) proclaiming that only one giant ropen lives on Umboi Island?
I had several reasons, and I suspect that only one ropen still flies regularly, at night, over mountains and reefs of Umboi.
I do not imply that this species of living pterosaur is in danger of extinction. I have interviewed several eyewitnesses of what seem to be giant pterosaurs in the Southwest Pacific (See sidebar to the left). One report is from a couple who lived in Perth, Australia, in 1997. Although the creature seen by this couple may be a different species than the ropen of Umboi, it is a giant with a long tail, and apparently lacks feathers. It would be called by some people a "dragon." I have too many reports to allow me to fear pterosaur extinction.
Consider just one example: a pterosaur-like thing seen near Indonesia (Southwest Pacific). In mid-2008, I got a phone call from a *pilot: His small airplane almost collided with a large flying creature. As he and his co-pilot were approaching Bali, Indonesia, they were shocked to find themselves on a collision course with what the pilot first thought was another airplane. He put his plane into a dive to avoid a collision but both men realized that they had just missed a non-plane. Right away they came up with the same word: "pterodactyl" (another shock). After my interviews with the men, they decided to avoid labeling what they had seen as a "ropen," at least on the record. Still, they noticed a few things that made them doubt that it was any common bird. (*Sighting in June, 2008)
But why would there be only one ropen on Umboi Island? The two expeditions of 2004 (first by me and second by Garth Guessman and David Woetzel) led us to believe that at least a few hundred villagers had seen the ropen's light at least once. But all the reports are of a single glow, never more than one.
In addition, indirect evidence suggests that the giant flying creatures (that are described like pterosaurs) are seen as individual creatures. Hodgkinson saw only one in 1944; Mr. Brian Hennessy saw only in on Bougainville Island in 1971, seven boys at Lake Pung saw only one around 1994; the couple at Perth saw only one in 1997. And two former marine pilots saw only one in 2008.
There are exceptions to the lonely-ropen rule. In 2006, Paul Nation videotaped two indava lights deep in the interior of the mainland of Papua New Guinea. In addition, I have read of reports of multiple-creatures, pterosaur-like, flying in daylight. But each such report I can answer with many reports of one creature. Rare exceptions confirm the general rule.
Giant flying creatures (resembling what modern Westerners call "pterosaurs") in old historical records and traditions of people in South America, North America, and Europe are solitary creatures, spending much of their time on top of cliffs or mountains overlooking water. But I admit that this fact is only secondary: The many modern sightings of a lone flying light or a lone flying creature on Umboi Island is primary.
Searching for Ropens may be the first book about living pterosaurs in the Southwest Pacific. This nonfiction was written by Whitcomb; 2007, second edition, published by Wingspan Press.

Duane Hodgkinson, in 1944, saw what he described as a "pterodactyl" that flew up from a clearing near the city of Finschhafen (mainland of what's now called Papua New Guinea). The winspan of the creature he estimated to be like that of a Piper Tri-Pacer airplane: twenty-nine feet.

To report anything, please email to: comment [at-sign] (plural ropens)
Pterosaurs Still Living
(Home Page)
"Pterodactyl" sighting by Duane Hodgkinson
Gideon and his friends were terrified by the ropen that flew over Lake Pung, Umboi Island, Papua New Guinea, around 1994
Consider eyewitnesses of Umboi Island: David Moke, Mesa, Gideon, and Mark Kau (village leader)
What is a ropen?
Whitcomb expedition of 2004 (Umboi Island)
Flying Dinosaurs
Mount Sual, as seen from the front porch of Mark and Delilah Kau's house near Gomlongon Village, Umboi Island, Morobe Province, Papua New Guinea. This is one of the mountains where the ropen is seen. This image was taken by Jonathan Whitcomb during his 2004 expedition (copyright 2004 Jonathan Whitcomb).