Ropen is the local name of a nocturnal creature on Umboi Island, Papua New Guinea that glows while flying, and which is held by many cryptozoologists as a possible living pterosaur. At least five light expeditions, 1994-2004, were conducted by American creationists, including Carl Baugh, Paul Nation, Jonathan Whitcomb, Garth Guessman, and David Woetzel (usually one or two Americans at a time). Only about three sightings resulted from these investigations: only distant, brief views of the ropen-light; essentially no shape was seen by explorers on these expeditions.
By 2006, investigators’ opinions had polarized: Whitcomb emphasized the descriptions correlating to a Sordes Pilosus relationship, while Woetzel emphasized descriptions correlating to a Dimorphodon. (Both pterosaurs are Rhamphorhynchoids.)
Eyewitness testimonies suggest that the ropen is a Rhamphorhynchoid (long-tailed) pterosaur. According to the investigators this criteria is based on several consistent patterns such as the featherless appearance, long tail that ends in a flange or diamond shape and fishing habits. Descriptions of a giant size, leathery skin, and a long tail–these cross cultural boundaries: Australians, an American, and natives of Papua New Guinea mention a pterosaur-like appearance; knowledge or ignorance of fossils or Western beliefs about extinction seem to be irrelevant to these eyewitness descriptions: Both Westerners and natives report a giant long-tailed flying creature, either featherless or at least without any obvious feathers.
According to the recent investigators David Woetzel, Garth Guessman, and Jonathan Whitcomb, over 90% of the sightings of the ropen on Umboi Island are of the “ropen light.” Whitcomb’s book (Searching for Ropens) suggests that most of these sightings are of one giant creature that sleeps in the island interior during the day; at night it feeds on reefs (at least on the northern and southern coasts where the three investigators explored). The two expeditions of 2004 independently interviewed eyewitnesses who reported that the bright glow of the ropen lasts for about five to six seconds.
The few seconds when it glows brightly–This reveals flight patterns, according to the two expeditions of 2004. During the first two hours after sundown, the ropen-light usually moves towards the coast; The one exception was when it seemed to be flying from one mountain to another. (No interview revealed any flight from the coast toward the interior of the island during the first two hours after sundown.) This correlates with some native accounts that the ropen flys to a reef early in the evening to feed at night.
Many of the ropen-light eyewitnesses estimate that the flight altitude is about one hundred meters above the tree tops. Jonah Jim (living near Owongai Village, west of Gomlongon, Umboi Island) was interviewed in both 2004 expeditions. He described the altitude as 500-550 feet. Whitcomb believes that this low-altitude flash of light (100-160 meters above the tree canopy) supports the idea that the creature is using its bioluminescence to orient itself to the terrain as it prepares to land.
Papua New Guinea
In November, 2006 one of the earlier explorers, Paul Nation returned to Papua New Guinea and videotaped two lights on a ridge above Tawa, a remote village on the mainland. Indava is what the creature is called by the local villagers and one described it in terms of a small airplane. These nocturnal, apparently bioluminescent creatures appeared to have colonized the top of a cliff where they sleep during the day. Investigators believe that these creatures are similar to the ropen, if not the same species.
In March of 2007, Paul Nation returned to Tawa Village. The temperatures at night had dropped to below 40 degrees Fahrenheit with wind and rain which made him conclude that the indavas had left the cliff. Villagers told Nation that the creatures live in trees without any permanent colony location. During this second expedition to the Tawa area, Nation learned to distinguish between distant automobile headlights (bright-white, with slow movement) and the dimmer yellow lights made by the creatures. Indava’s fly mostly above the tree canopy, following ridges on hills and mountains where there are neither roads nor automobiles.
Other names within the other languages in Papua New Guinea may refer to the same kind of creature; the words include “duwas,” “wawanar” and “seklo-bali.” The complexity of hundreds of languages and dialects however, makes research challenging. For example, “ropen,” near Wau (mainland P.N.G.) means “bird.” The same word (ropen), in another area of the mainland, refers to the giant fruit bat that English speakers call the Flying Fox. Descriptions on Umboi Island differentiate the fruit bat (“byung” in the Kovai language) from what they call “ropen,” for the larger creature eats fish, glows at night, has a long tail, and holds itself upright on a tree trunk, rather than upside down from a branch.
Since 2007, cryptozoologists who had previously explored in Papua New Guinea began investigating reports of ropen-like phenomena in North America. They noticed that flashes of light, similar to ropen-flashes in Papua New Guinea, were reported in West Coast states of the United States. Guessman, Woetzel, and others started observations in one (secret) location on the West Coast and the cryptozoologist Scott T. Norman had a sighting at a close distance. In 2008, Whitcomb formally introduced the idea that explorers had considered since 2007: Some North America sighting reports suggest that large bioluminescent flying creatures catch bats in flight; they may eat other things as well but bats are a primary protein source for a creature that seems related to the ropen.
In 2008, a second team began obervations at a second (secret) location in the Western U.S., and Whitcomb began investigating a (third) sighting report of a ropen-like creature seen at a wildlife refuge in Southern California. According to the book “Live Pterosaurs in America,” Whitcomb found the eyewitness to be credible: “His reputation in his profession could only be damaged, were he to perpetuate a hoax.” The eyewitness estimated the length of the creature to be thirty feet, which included a long tail.
Critics of the living-pterosaur investigations, most but not all of them supporting standard models of evolution, have suggested several alternative explanations to the idea that long-tailed pterosaurs live in the Southwest Pacific. These alternatives have been suggested by the critics to support the popular model that all species of pterosaurs became universally extinct millions of years ago, the last ones living no more recently than 65-million years ago.
The largest Flying Fox fruit bats of the Southwest Pacific grow not much bigger than six feet in wingspan; their tails are very short or insignificant. They sleep hanging upside down from branches during the day and are very common in many areas of Papua New Guinea. Critics have suggested that at least some of the sightings of “pterodactyls” have been misidentifications: silhouettes of Flying Foxes at night. There are several problems with that hypothesis. Duane Hodgkinson, on the mainland of Papua New Guinea in 1944, saw what he called a “pterodactyl” in the middle of the day; he described the size as similar to a Piper Tri-Pacer airplane and the tail as “at least ten to fifteen feet long.” Four Australians have also described creatures that were either bat-like or pterosaur-like but much larger than any Flying Fox. Gideon Koro, of Umboi Island, was interviewed by Whitcomb in 2004, and after careful consideration estimated the tail length at seven meters. In addition, two native eyewitnesses described how a ropen held itself upright on a tree trunk (unlike a bat hanging upside down from a branch). And fishing habits and bright flashes of apparent bioluminescent light do not correlate well with sightings of fruit bats.
Another explanation, suggested for the sightings of apparent Rhamphorhynchoid pterosaurs living in Papua New Guinea, is that the creationist investigators are biased: Their zeal to believe in living pterosaurs has made their investigations too unreliable to be taken seriously. It is unscientific, however, to only make a blanket-statement about the personal characteristics or mentalities of those involved in on-going investigations: detailed criticism of particular interviews or interview techniques may be appropriate; a general accusation of “bias” is inappropriate. Also, because virtually all of the critics work from an evolutionary background, they too can be criticized for bias, their zeal for disproving living pterosaurs getting in the way of true scientific research.
Some critics have suggested that living-pterosaur investigators are dishonest: that they are engaged in a hoax. Perhaps the best rebuttal to that is in the reports of what the investigators have personally seen. While searching for living pterosaurs, and while promoting belief in them, investigators have traveled to Papua New Guinea intermittently from 1994 through early 2007. Not one of the investigators ever declared seeing anything similar to a pterosaur; most of their work involved interviewing eyewitnesses. Whitcomb, in the book Searching for Ropens, explains that this lack of clear sightings among the American investigators is convincing evidence against any hoax by them.
Another explanation is that the witnesses are dishonest, promoting a hoax or hoaxes. The problem with that suggestion is that the eyewitnesses come from different countries and speak a number of languages. The possibiliby of a collaboration among those individuals is extremely remote. The similarities in descriptions, however (giant featherless, long-tailed flying creatures), cannot easily be dismissed as coincidental.
Some critics suggest that those who say that they have seen a living pterosaur are insane. But a press release (Aug 19, 2009) mentions that at least 1400 credible eyewitnesses have seen a living pterosaurs in the United States from 1980 till 2008. This estimate comes from a sampling of eyewitnesses whose testimonies and manners of communication suggested sound mental health. It did not include those who had any signs of mental illness. In addition, the psychologist Brian Hennessy (who works at a medical university) is an eyewitness himself; very few, if any, employed mental health professionals are themselves mentally ill.