Pterosaurs
Still Living

What is a Ropen?

Pterosaurs Still Living: Ropens
 
How often we've been taught the axiom of the extinction of all pterosaurs and dinosaurs (millions of years ago) as if it were proven. But what if some are still living? Before we dismiss the idea of a modern pterosaur (in particular, two live species of a long-tailed Rhamphorhynchoid), please consider the eyewitness testimonies.
 
The following compilations of eyewitness testimonies and second-hand accounts, are supplemented by the conclusions of Jonathan Whitcomb. It seems that at least two types of long-tailed modern pterosaurs live in the Southwest Pacific, although there may be sub-species variations. Reports of smaller creatures (under three meters wingspan) in the Manus Island area of Papua New Guinea might be juveniles of the same species as the larger creatures to the south. (There are reports of modern pterosaurs in other parts of the world including the United States: California, Washington State, Oregon, Arizona, Texas, Ohio, Kentucky, Wisconsin, Georgia, and South Carolina. But we here consider Papua New Guinea.)
 
We who have searched for it in Papua New Guinea call this creature by the name known on  Umboi Island: “ropen.” With hundreds of cultures and languages in P.N.G., a real living creature should have different names among different cultures. This is the case, with other names for large nocturnal flying creatures being duwas, kundua, seklobali (or seklo-bali), indava, and wawanar. But all these names might refer to only one or two species.
 
It is mostly nocturnal, but a few reports of daylight sightings (1, 2, 3, 14, 24) provide much information on the shape and features of the ropen.
 
After exploring Umboi Island in 2004, Whitcomb (author of "Searching for Ropens") concluded that there is only one large ropen living continuously in the interior of Umboi Island, but many live on the mainland of Papua New Guinea. He believes that this large Umboi ropen is an older adult that has staked out the larger mountains. (But it's not likely the same ropen that was reported on Umboi Island in 1949: (11) grave robbery witnessed by Michael of Opai) It is likely this island is ideal for the species and large ropens claim the interior mountains of similar islands, to be close to much coastline.
 
Described like a Rhamphorhynchoid pterosaur, the ropen lives in some tropical areas of the southwest Pacific. (13, 14, 18, 19, 21) It’s main diet may be fish or other oceanic life that it catches at night with the aid of a bioluminescence that attracts fish. (11)  This bioluminescence is at least partially controlled by the creature. Another food source is carrion. (On Umboi Island, it used to be attracted to funerals, before coffins were used.) (11, 19, 20, 21) It is also reported to carry giant clams into mountains where it feeds on them (18), but this idea (Woetzel-Guessman expedition) needs additional investigation.
 
After Whitcomb learned of a cryptozoological investigation in the Western United States (observations in 2007), he hypothesized that some ropens eat bats, although this may be only part of their diet in the United States.
 
Most eyewitnesses of the ropen see only a glow as it flies over land (6, 9, 10, 11, 12, 18, 21, 23). There’s also a glow that it uses to attract fish or other sea creatures at the surface of the sea at night (11). These two cases of light emission may be of the same degree and type of luminosity (unknown).
 
On Umboi, the light emission is brief: about 5-6 seconds (4, 5, 18).  It may begin quickly and end quickly (4) or gradually (5) until the light is gone. One local man says the ropen’s light is never on for more than 5-6 seconds (18). It’s used over the sea (4) or near the beach (5), but it's usually seen over land and against a mountain background.
 
The mouth of the ropen has been described by one native eyewitness (1) as like that of a crocodile. That is, it resembles the mouth of a crocodile compared with other fauna on Umboi Island (Gideon’s testimony is generally supported by 2 and 3). Others describe it as resembling a bill somewhat similar to pelican's. (21) It should be noted that the mouth of a crocodile has some general similarity to the beak of a pelican in that it is relatively long and narrow. The presence or absence of teeth is rarely noticed.
 
The ropen, with no feathers (1, 13, 19), is faster than birds, slower than airplanes. (12,18)
 
Some ropens are described as brown (1, 22), “black or dark brown” (24), or a light reddish tan (13). One report indicates that on Umboi Island they are dark or dark-grayish with dark bluish spots (21), and outside Umboi Island some are tan brown with dark spots. (21)
 
One Umboi eyewitness said the length of the tail is similar to the "wingspan," (1) but he probably a misunderstood the English word “wingspan” and was referring to the size of one wing. Around Western Australia, the body may be a bit shorter than the tail (13).
 
Some say the tail has a “diamond” or flange-shaped structure. (1, 2, 3, 21) while others have noticed no such detail but suggest it ends in a point (15). This difference in testimony is most likely due to a difference in point-of-view. When the creature is seen from another perspective, the flange is not visible as such (or at least it’s not as obvious a structure).
 
A tradition in north-central Umboi Island was related to David Woetzel and Garth Guessman regarding the ropen's tail. Can the tail move or bend? The tradition says that it is always straight except at the base where the tail connects to the body. This correlates precisely with the biology of the tails of Rhamphorhynchoid pterosaurs. They could not (or cannot) move except by a few vertebrae closer to the tail base. This is more cryptozoological evidence that Rhamphorhynchoids are extant.
 
There are (dorsal) bumps or ridges on the tail (1, 15) and from the back of the head, over the neck and back (1), at least according to some reports.
 
The wings resemble the wings of the  Flying Fox bat, at least somewhat (1,21). But local villagers are very much aware of the bat. (AKA “blak bokus” in the Tok Pisin language or “byung” on Umboi Island) There's no confusion between bat and ropen.
 
Some eyewitnesses report an appendage at the back of the head (14, 15, 21); Some report that the ropen has “hands” half-way up the wings (21).
 
At a close to moderate distance, larger ones can be very frightening to local villagers (1, 2, 3, 16, 17, 21).
 
On Umboi Island, it has a wingspan of “seven meter” (1). One seen over Perth, Australia, in 1997, had a wingspan of “30-50” feet (13). One seen in 1944, near Finschhafen, Papua New Guinea had a wingspan close to 26-29 feet (14, 22). Some in northern PNG are smaller, (21) with wingspans of 3-6 feet. It is possible  that these smaller creatures may be a different species of pterosaur, but it seems more likely they are juvenile ropens.
 
The ropen of Umboi Island sometimes flies over the villages of Gomlongon and Opai (11, 19) or between the south coast of the island and Mt. Bel (and between mountains). It also flies to the northern coast where it will rest on a particular tree. (18)
 
Two hunters have seen it hold itself onto the trunk of a tree in an upright position. (19) This may be one of the reasons that local legends refer to the ropen as being like a man or changing into a man. Young boys and men climb coconut trees by using a similar technique of holding onto the tree trunk. Aside from humans, probably the only living thing with two legs that is seen to hold onto a tree trunk, in an upright position, on Umboi Island, is the ropen.
 
Although this apparent extant pterosaur on Umboi Island does not seem to be much of a threat to humans, there have been reports, in other areas of Papua New Guinea, of attacks on natives. One man died while trying to catch a ropen; after he found it sleeping on a beach, he tried to tie the creature to a log (19). Another man died when he was attacked in his garden (21). A number of the local villagers witnessed his body being eaten by the creature after they arrived to see what the noise was about (21). The creatures that are darker in color may be more aggressive (21).
 
Since the early 1990’s, at least seven Americans have explored Umboi Island, searching for ropens. One of the early expeditions was near a small island in the northern part of PNG. In 1996, the missionary  Jim Blume saw a small glowing form in the night, on a hill overlooking a mangrove swamp. This is assumed to have been one of the smaller of the creatures reported to live in the Manus Island area, though the form was vague. (21)
 
David Woetzel saw the ropen-light briefly in 2004. He saw no shape to the glowing object, but it was heading towards the Lake Pung area, where several eyewitnesses had previously seen a giant featherless flying creature.
 
Paul Nation videotaped the “indava” light late in 2006, on the mainland, northwest of Port Moresby. The video footage was analyzed by a missile defense physicist, Cliff Paiva: There was no common-place explanation for the videotaped lights. (See Contents of the scientific report on the apparent bioluminescent indava lights.)
 
Sources Regarding Modern Pterosaurs:
 
In-person interviews by Jonathan Whitcomb in 2004 (Papua New Guinea):
 
1)  Gideon Koro, Umboi Island (close, daytime)
2)  Wesley Koro, Umboi Island (close, daytime)
3)  Mesa, Umboi Island (close, daytime)
4)  David Moke, Umboi Island  (night, close)
5)  William Gima, Umboi Island  (night, close)
6)  Mark Kau, Umboi Island  (night, distant)
9)  Jonah Jim  (night, close)
10) Venice Conrad (night, distant), John Anton (nt, dist),
      Dianne Aisi (nt, dist), John Lapu (nt, dist), Jefron Ambolis (nt, dist)
11) Others interviewed by Whitcomb
12) Young men from Tarawe Village
(night, distant)
 
Interviews by Whitcomb (phone and/or email):

13) Email communications between Whitcomb and two Australians who saw an
      extremely large flying creature over Perth in 1997.
 
14) Telephone, email, and correspondence interviews with a World War II vet. (D.H.) 
      including survey with drawings and detailed descriptions. The sighting: near
      Finschhafen, [in New Guinea]. (See also #22: Hodgkinson 2005 interview)
 
In-person interviews by Garth Guessman and David Woetzel in 2004:
 
15) Jonah Jim  (night, close)
16) Villagers of Arot
17) Villagers of Tarawe
18) Other eyewitnesses in Papua New Guinea
 
Various accounts of the ropen:
 
19) Videotaped interviews prior to 2004 (special thanks to Paul Nation, and to his son,
      Nathaniel, and to Dr Carl Baugh, and to Jim Blume)
20)  Second-hand reports in various parts of PNG
21)  Telephone interview of Jim Blume by Guessman; Blume has spoken with about 70 

       people who’ve seen this creature in PNG. Also an in-person interview in 2004.
22) In-person interview of Duane Hodgkinson, June, 2005. (by Guessman) (see # 14)
23) Guessman interview of Jonathan Ragu of Umboi Island. (2004)
24) Whitcomb’s 2006 interview with Brian Hennessy (who is now a psychologist at a

      medical university in Central China) - This psychologist saw a ropen.