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Ropen: A Living Dinosaur or a Figment of Faith?

Dean Traylor is a freelance writer and teacher who writes about various subjects, including education and creative writing.

A purported Ropen sighting.

A purported Ropen sighting.

Where Was the Ropen Discovered?

After numerous expeditions into the wilds of Papua New Guinea, Paul Nation believed he finally made the discovery of a lifetime in 2006. The Texas-born cryptozoologist, explorer, and “living-pterosaurs investigator” came to the South Pacific Island nation to coordinate a search for a nocturnal flying creature known as Ropen. And on this fateful expedition, he believed he finally caught them on videotape.

Several years before this discovery, another researcher named Jonathon Whitcomb went to Papua New Guinea with a research team. He interviewed the inhabitants and witnesses and also claimed that one of his team member spotted one flying in the night sky. Later, he wrote about the possible existence of a winged cryptid— possibly something many in creationist circles call a "living fossil".

According to Whitcomb's accounts in various blogs, the natives of a Papua New Guinea village told folk tales of the flying reptiles. They went by several names, depending on the island or region they were spotted in (on the main island of New Britain, for instance, it was known as Indava). One name, Ropen (which came from the volcanic island of Umboi) stuck in the minds of both Whitcomb and Nation.

Despite the various names, the descriptions were consistent. These creatures were described as being:

  • huge with a wingspan of 3-4 feet,
  • bio-luminescent,
  • similar to a prehistoric winged reptile such as the pterodactyl.

...David Woetzel (also associated with Creation Evidence Museum) claimed he spotted it flying between two mountain peaks. He had a video camera with him; however, he claimed that the sighting “was so quick that it was impossible to get a video."

Similar to accounts about the Loch Ness Monster in Scotland, the Yeti of the Himalayas, or Bigfoot of the American Northwest, proof of the existence of the ropen is based mainly on eye-witness accounts and a few blurry or questionable videos.

It also has proponents such as blogger, videographer and researcher Jonathon Whitcomb—possibly the one person to have popularized the legend of the flying cryptid for the Internet.

Still, in 2006, Nation and Whitcomb believed they had definitive proof. Nation's video-taped evidence showed—what he purported—two Ropens circling above a village at night. Later, he claimed to tape them perched on a tree. Not much can be seen, except for the light they emitted.

While many skeptics point out that the film doesn’t prove much, many cryptid and paranormal researchers have accepted it as being compelling enough to validate their beliefs.

However, with such belief, the story of the Ropen's supposed existence creates for a murky one that goes beyond sketchy videos and eye-witness accounts and into a rabbit hole of religious faith and deception.

Ropen and Young Earth Creationism?

Proving the existence of a pterodactyl-like creature in modern times was not the only reason Nation searched for the creature. He and the expeditionary groups he was part of in 1994, 2002, and 2006, were affiliated with a Texas based Creationist organization known as the Creation Evidence Museum. The Creation Evidence Museum was founded by Carl Baugh—one of the men who accompanied Nation on his first expedition in 1994, and who had funded other research and expeditions to refute the theory of evolution.

As it turns out, the Ropen legend captured the attention of proponents of creationism. The existence of this flying beast may help them prove that the theory of evolution was wrong about the origin of life on the planet. Part of the argument for creationism is that dinosaurs and humans actually co-existed 6000 years ago, instead of being separated by millions of years.

To note: While many Young Earth Creationists will back the notions that the world is only a few thousand years old, it's not unanimous. Some have stated tens or hundreds of thousand years old. A few mention a million years or higher.

The belief that the world is 6000 years-old supposedly coincides with the events described in the Book of Genesis in the Old Testament of the Bible. This is a theory embraced by proponents of a creationist concept known as the Young Earth Creationism.

History of Sightings

Most sites agree that the first Modern sightings of the creature began during World War II. (One site claims that the first sighting was in 1935 made by "non-creationist" biologist named Eveyln Cheesman) In 1944, an American soldier, Duane Hodgkinson, spotted it rising from the forest near Finshhafen on the mainland. In a 2005 video testimony, he claimed that the creature had a tail “at least ten to fifteen feet long,” and had a long appendage at the back of its head (Whitcomb, 2006).

However, it wasn’t until the 1990s that any type of expedition to find the winged creature was made. There were other accounts and reports; however, little or no evidence was ever collected and most of the sightings came from the locals and missionaries in New Britain and Umboi Islands.

Artist rendering of the Ropen.

Artist rendering of the Ropen.

In 2004, cryptozoologist David Woetzel (also associated with Creation Evidence Museum) claimed he spotted it flying between two mountain peaks. He had a video camera with him; however, he claimed that the sighting “was so quick that it was impossible to get a video (Whitcomb, 2005).”

Possibly the most significant documentation of the winged creature didn’t come from an explorer or witness. Whitcomb went on several expeditions. Despite never obtaining any physical evidence (aside from a member of his team claiming he saw it) he interviewed the villagers and missionaries, Woetzel, Hodgkinson, and Nation. As a result of this, he turned his compilation of interviews into a 2007 book titled Searching for Ropen. In the book, and on countless web blogs on the subject, Whitcomb came to the conclusion that the Ropen was real.

Media Catches On to the Ropen Craze

The book garnered attention outside the creationist circle, but not in a positive way. Critics claimed that the sighting were possibly false reports of Flying Fox Fruit Bats or Frigate birds. There were others who suggested that it was a hoax.

Eventually, TV shows started to showcase the ropen legend. In 2007, the host and cryptid investigator of SyFy Channel’s Destination Truth, Joshua Gates, did a segment on it.

Ropen or Frigate Bird?

Ropen or Frigate Bird?

He and his team went to the last reported site to see for themselves if it was real. Although they witnessed strange lights in the night, his team could not confirm what they were. In the end, they failed to produce definitive evidence.

In 2009, History Channel’s Monster Quest conducted its own expedition. Again, no definitive evidence was found. However, the show featured Nation’s video and had it analyzed by a forensic video expert.

He couldn’t confirm or deny that the lights were proof that the winged beast existed. Instead, he vaguely stated that the lights were not made by humans and that it may have been bio-luminescent (created by an animal).

Living Fossil?

If there are two constants in the story of the Ropen, the name Jonathon David Whitcomb and "Living Fossils" are always present. As mentioned in the article, Whitcomb, a videographer by trade, has conducted several interviews on the subject, taken part in expeditions, made video presentation and written several books and articles on the subject.

Whitcomb has been busy on the Internet lately. As late as 2013, he has responded to critics of his work by either downplaying some of the more outlandish facets from his book (and from other writers) or urging them to read the 2nd edition, in which he made some corrections.

Whitcomb and Woetzal's names have been associated with this movement. Also, the living fossils movements has earned some fans within the homeschool text industry.

Also, the ropen story seemingly falls under the category of "living fossils." The term refers to cryptids that resemble dinosaurs. The living fossils movement has been embraced by the Young Earth Creationists who believe the discovery of these beast suggest that man and dinosaurs lived together, and this somehow disproves the Theory of Evolution.

Whitcomb and Woetzal's names have been associated with this movement. Also, the living fossils movements has earned some fans within the homeschool text industry. Recently, textbooks that suggested the validity of certain cryptids (such as as the ropen and the Loc Ness Monster), were once part of Louisiana's homeschool curriculum.

Sock Puppetry Accusations

Proving and/or disproving the existence of the Ropen legend has become a rabbit hole of sorts. Whitcomb is an active proponents, sometimes clogging comment sections of articles that debunk or question the legend (one example can be found at the bottom of a Smithsonian article debating the myth)

It doesn't stop there. It goes deeper than that. Two scientists/writers revealed that Whitcomb may have been the sole person responsible for spreading the myth.

Dr. Donald Prothero (a long-time professor of geology and paleontology), and Biologist and blog writer P.Z Myers accused Whitcomb of using sock puppetry.

According to Urban Dictionary, the term sock puppet refers to "An account made on an internet message board, by a person who already has an account, for the purpose of posting more-or-less anonymously." In other words, nearly all (if not all) websites and blogs about the Ropen were authored by Whitcomb—in some cases under one of his pen names.

This accusation was confirmed by Whitcomb, himself, who mentioned in several Twitter posts on his account. Also, he revealed his alias on some of his "Ropen" sites.

And, true to form, Whitcomb has gone after his critics on this matter. In 2015, Whitcomb critiqued me in two postings on two different blogs he runs. He's accused me of being a straw man and based it on two articles that had been published on the defunct

Evidently, Whitcomb didn't like being named as a young earth creationist who believes the world started 6,000 years ago. According to him, it's 7000 years.

Final Thoughts on Ropen

In the end, Ropen is more of a hope than an actual creature. Many have vested their reputation and personal faith that it exists in the wild. In addition, they have gone to great length to keep the legend and "investigations" alive, even going as far as harassing critics and creating personas and numerous websites and blogs on the subject.

Currently, Whitcomb has moved onto Youtube where he appears to have posted more interviews and supposed sightings of Ropens and other similar cryptids from around the world.

To date, Nation’s sketchy video of strange lights in the sky and another video of "something" flying over a Papua New Guinea beach are the best evidence for its existence.

It’s not much, however, for Baugh, Nation, Whitcomb, Woetzel, and other “living-pterosaur investigators” (that is if they are different people), this is all the proof they need.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2015 Dean Traylor


Dean Traylor (author) from Southern California/Spokane, Washington (long story) on February 01, 2019:

Evidently, Jonathan Whitcomb, the man behind this myth wasn't thrilled with my assessment of the Ropen myth. He wrote two articles targeting me and claiming a created a straw-man argument (I don't think he understands that term). That was back in 2015. No other comments from him have surfaced.

Dean Traylor (author) from Southern California/Spokane, Washington (long story) on January 01, 2018:

New update for the new year. Evidently the originator of this myth (and he'll probably swear up and down it's not a myth and claim he has proof despite admitting on Twitter he hasn't seen one) was up to some nefarious tactics such as sock puppetry.

Chook on October 27, 2017:

I seen some thing strange I would say it was a giant frigate bird with out feathers on its wings and a crest.

Dean Traylor (author) from Southern California/Spokane, Washington (long story) on April 14, 2016:

I was confused about this claim too. However, on a few discussion the line of thinking is that it would prove that geological aging process used by geologists and paleontologists were wrong. What they don't understand is that they use a battery of tools to prove the Earth's age. Interestingly, I remember looking at textbooks for homeschool students in Louisiana were referring to the Ropen...and Jonathon Whitcomb was involved . Also, I later discovered that much of this was coming from the person mentioned. Nearly anything on Ropen on Google came from his sites (he's accused of sock-puppetry). And, he got hold of two other article I wrote on this subject (that had been taken up two years ago) and has written hilarious blogs trying to back pedal on his claims, as well as taking jabs at anyone who wrote in opposition to his claims (this includes Discovery Magazine Smithsonian Online (?), several science writers, and me).

Lela from Somewhere near the heart of Texas on April 14, 2016:

Found the hub by doing a search for "Ropen" on HP. Interesting, but, of course, not conclusive. I wonder why Creationists think that finding a living fossil will prove creationism? I don't think finding a living organism will prove that anything was just poofed into existence. It's just another species that is still around.