Life-sized statue representing the postulated appearance in life of Therizinosaurus (© Dr Karl Shuker)
North of Australia is the extremely large island of New Guinea, still plentifully supplied with little-explored expanses of rainforest and mountainland. Might it be hiding some modern-day non-avian dinosaurs, living neodinosaurs, no less? Over the years, a number of searches for such creatures have been made there, inspired by local testimony of elusive cryptids bearing varying degrees of resemblance to dinosaurian reptiles, as will now be revealed.
Having said that, we begin our quest for surviving prehistoric Papuans with what must surely be one of the most bizarre episodes in the entire history of cryptozoology.
Political map of New Guinea, showing its division into Indonesia-owned Papua (left) and the independent sovereign state Papua New Guinea (right) (Wikipedia)
During the late 1930s, Java-born explorer/camera-man Charles C. Miller and his newly-married wife, former American society girl Leona Jay, spent their honeymoon visiting the Sterren Mountains in what was then Dutch New Guinea (the western half of New Guinea, now known variously, and confusingly, as Western New Guinea, Papua, Western Papua, Irian Jaya, or Indonesian New Guinea). Here they allegedly encountered not only a hitherto-unknown tribe of cannibals called the Kirrirri but also what Miller believed to be a living dinosaur. Their introduction to this latter beast came about in a somewhat unusual manner - courtesy of a coconut de-husker used by one of the native women.
Leona noticed that the tool in question, roughly 18 in long and 20 lb in weight, resembled the distal portion of an elephant tusk or rhino horn, but as there are no elephants or rhinos in New Guinea she was very perplexed as to its true identity and origin. When she told her husband, he made some enquiries and was shown several of these curious objects, which were made of a horn-like substance present in cone-shaped layers - i.e. resembling a stacked pile of paper drinking cups, one cup inside another. When pressed for more details, some of the natives drew a strange lizard-like creature in the sand, whose tail terminated in one of these horns. They called this beast the row (after its loud cry), and said that it was 40 ft long,
Although Miller was initially sceptical of their claims, he could not deny the evidence of the horns and could offer no alternative explanation for their origin, and so when he learned that the hills to the northwest of the Kirrirri camp reputedly harboured these gigantic beasts, he set out with his wife and a native party in the hope of filming them. After a couple of days' journey, they reached a triangular swamp situated between two plateaux and occupying an area of roughly 40 acres. As Miller sat there, looking at a bed of tall reeds a quarter of a mile away, the reeds suddenly moved. Something was behind them. Hardly daring to breathe, Miller waited for them to move again, camera in hand - and when they did, the result was so shocking that Leona collapsed to the ground, almost fainting with fear.
A long thin neck bearing a small head fringed with a flaring bony hood had risen up through the reeds, followed by a sturdy elephantine body bearing a series of huge triangular plates running along its backbone, and a lengthy tapering tail bearing at its tip one of the mysterious horns that Miller had come to know so well. Its front limbs were shorter than its hind limbs, and while Miller was filming it, the row unexpectedly paused, raised itself up onto its hind limbs, and peered in the party's direction, almost as if it sensed the presence of these human interlopers within its private, prehistoric domain. In colour, it was precisely the same shade of light yellow-brown as the surrounding reeds, no doubt affording it excellent camouflage should it seek anonymity, but it was presently intent upon more extrovert behaviour - rearing up on two further occasions before disappearing from sight behind a clump of dwarf eucalyptus trees, just as Miller's film ran out.
My copy of the 1951 Travel Book Club reprint of Cannibal Caravan (© Travel Book Club, reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)
In 1939, his extraordinary adventure was first published in book form - Cannibal Caravan. Yet despite containing many interesting pictures, there was none of his most spectacular discovery, the row. There was not even a photograph of one of the tail horns. Similarly, although Miller claimed to have shown the film to various (unnamed) authorities, nothing more has ever emerged regarding it, or the Kirrirri either, for that matter, as this tribe has apparently never been encountered again by any other explorer.
Equally odd was that in Cannibals and Orchids (1941), Leona Miller's own book recalling their ostensibly highly eventful New Guinea honeymoon, she relegated the row episode to just a few short paragraphs (of which only a single half-paragraph directly documented their actual supposed sighting of it), and which contained none of the descriptive details given by her husband in his book (indeed, her entire description of it was confined to a single sentence, concerning its length). Needless to say, this is hardly what one might expect from someone who had supposedly encountered (and been thoroughly unnerved by) a living dinosaur!
Nevertheless, because I am unaware of any previous cryptozoological document ever having quoted her account of the row (as opposed to his), I am doing so now for its historical (if not its descriptive) value:
In the village we found the horny tail-tip of the row. It looked like a rhinoceros horn, except that one side had been worn flat and smooth from dragging across the ground. The Kirrirri women, undaunted by the battleship proportions of the creature that supplied it, used the point for husking coconuts.
Having seen the tip of the tail, Charles had to see the row. The Kirrirris, mightily impressed by Charles’s guns, were agreeable. They were just crazy enough to see what would happen when Charles popped at a monster with a gun, and Charles was just crazy enough to show them. I went along because I wouldn’t have been any better off if I stayed behind, and I also had an idea that if there really was such a thing as the creature described – I didn’t believe it for a minute – I wanted to be where I could yank Charles out before he did something he wouldn’t have time to regret.
We went, we saw the darn thing, and we came back. Charles got motion pictures of it, but it was his reflexes, trained in Hollywood, that started the camera. His brain was just as frozen as mine. In fact of the two of us, he was more scared than I. I was just scared blank and couldn’t get any more frightened. Charles had been in so many tight spots before, he could appreciate the various shadings of danger. This was the blackest shade he had ever encountered, so he hit a new high in fright. He says it really takes an expert to be as scared as he was, though I later encountered moments when I came awfully close to it.
Artistic representation of the row (© Tim Morris)
The row was the real thing. In a radio broadcast on a nation-wide hook-up I ventured to describe it over the air. The resulting fan-mail indicated the public was still interested in prehistoric monsters. It has long been known to science that Dutch New Guinea harbors some sort of monster on the order of, but much larger, than the Varanus Komodoensis. Other explores have found additional evidence, but Charles and I believe we are the first white people actually to see one alive and to have found its lair.
The giant reptile we saw was somewhere between thirty and forty feet long, which is not big considering that some of the crocodiles grow thirty feet long in the Merauke River. It was its bulk that made it so tremendous. But every tiny detail was impressed upon my mind, to be recalled bit by bit as the first shock wore off. Many a night after that I lay awake staring through the clouds of mosquitoes humming around my net and seeing only this monster smashing its casual way through what should have been an impenetrable quagmire of thorn brush and barbed wire marsh grass.
Charles took no shots at it. He recalled suddenly that he owed it to civilization to photograph in full the various details of the lost tribe. We hastened back to resume our travelogue where we left off. It was strangely restful to get in back of a tripod again, with nothing more alarming in front of the lens than a few dozen cannibals.
Perhaps the most paradoxical aspect of this entire episode, however, concerns the row itself. For although palaeontologists currently recognise the former existence of many hundreds of different dinosaur species, collectively yielding a myriad of shapes, sizes, and forms, not one compares even superficially with the row - and for very good reason. As Dr Bernard Heuvelmans pointed out in On the Track of Unknown Animals (1958), the row's morphology is truly surrealistic - because it combines the characteristics of several wholly unrelated dinosaur groups.
Little wonder, then, why cryptozoologists are reluctant to countenance any likelihood of this morphologically composite creature's reality. Of course, their denunciation could be premature - but as long as Miller's film remains as elusive as the beast that it allegedly depicts, how can we blame them for remaining unconvinced?
Intriguingly, however, as documented in Rex and Heather Gilroy's fascinating Australian cryptozoology tome Out of the Dreamtime (2006), reports of a neodinosaurian cryptid with the similar-sounding local name of rahruh have apparently been emerging elsewhere in New Guinea, but especially Papua New Guinea, for at least a century.
Out of the Dreamtime (© Rex and Heather Gilroy/URU Publications – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)
The reports describe an extremely large bipedal reptile with a very long neck, long tail, and predominantly frugivorous diet, but one that will also readily encompass the consumption of any Highland tribespeople who attempt to confront it. There have been many reports and sightings here of gigantic monitor lizards or varanids known as the artrellia, far longer than the accepted maximum length of 15 ft accorded to this island's native Salvadori's monitor Varanus salvadorii, and monitors can walk bipedally for a short time or distance, but the rahruh is supposedly very distinct from any such lizard.
Over the years, moreover, alleged sightings of sauropod-like mystery beasts have been reported from various tiny islets off the southwestern coast of the much larger island of New Britain (and also from New Britain itself), situated in the Bismarck Archipelago to the east of New Guinea, but little information concerning their precise appearance has been recorded. Conversely, I know of at least one reputed encounter with a very different type of supposed living dinosaur on one of these specks of land for which a detailed description is indeed on file, and which has been likened to a highly distinctive if decidedly surprising fossil form.
In January 2008, Australian cryptozoologist Brian Irwin visited the island of Ambungi (aka Umbungi), and while there he interviewed one of two eyewitnesses who claim to have seen an extraordinary animal in 2005/2006, and which has apparently been sighted here and on a neighbouring isle called Alage at least nine times since the early 1990s. Robert, whom Brian interviewed (the absent eyewitness was named Tony Avil), stated that the creature was approximately 30-45 ft long, possessed smooth brown shiny skin, a long tail, and also a long neck, but was bipedal, and resembled a huge wallaby in overall appearance, except for its head, which was turtle-like.
When walking slowly on its hind legs, the top of this creature's head was estimated to be "as high as a house", and the vertical distance from its underbelly to the ground was estimated to be equal to the height of an adult man. It was observed from a distance of around 150 ft in the late afternoon, and for some considerable time, while it ate vegetation before eventually walking away, entering into some water, followed cautiously at a distance by its eyewitnesses.
Another view of a life-sized statue representing the postulated appearance in life of Therizinosaurus (© Dr Karl Shuker)
When shown pictures of creatures, Robert selected a restoration of the possible appearance in life of the theropod dinosaur Therizinosaurus as most closely resembling what he and Avil had seen that day – except for the head, which was depicted as horse-like in the illustration. As Brian has commented, however, the head's morphology in that picture was entirely speculative, because no skull identified as being from a Therizinosaurus has ever been documented, so the appearance of its head is currently unknown. Indeed, the only portions of this very large theropod from the late Cretaceous that are known from fossil evidence are its limbs and some ribs, so much of its likely appearance is merely deduced from related forms.
Ironically, however, its most famous confirmed attributes, and which must have been truly spectacular in life, are conspicuous only by their absence from Roger's description of the cryptid seen by him and Avil – because Therizinosaurus possessed incredibly long claws on its hands, probably up to 3 ft long (only incomplete versions are currently on record). In short, combining this startling absence from Roger's description with the relatively undetermined appearance of Therizinosaurus as a whole anyway, his identification of the latter dinosaur's illustration as being most similar to the cryptid that he saw clearly cannot be taken literally in any sense (although it has been on some websites), and can do no more than offer a basic idea of the latter beast's general form.
During late December 2015 through early January 2016, Brian was in New Britain, accompanied by American cryptid investigator Todd Jurasek, to continue Brian's earlier researches. Todd's summary of what they learnt while there (plus a selection of their photographs) is included exclusively here as follows, with his kind permission:
1) Ambungi Island - We visited Ambungi Island examining the caves reportedly used by a sauropod in recent years. Brian and I and [a] large group [of] islanders went to the caves at night. Conflicting reports from the native divers led me to suspect it wasn't really a deep one. I went back and physically examined the cave the next day in daylight. The water surrounding the entrance was maybe 15 ft at its deepest point, the cave maybe about 10 ft wide and deep. I placed a trail camera for a week above a secondary purported cave with no success. The last reported dinosaur sighting around the island was back in July of 2015 by an adult male who wished to remain anonymous. He watched a brown long necked creature with a saw like ridge on his back moving in the open ocean in the afternoon while in a canoe. Ambungi Island appears to be visited at times by these creatures but I saw no surface caves capable of hiding an animal larger than an adult human. The island is comprised of pocketed limestone that has the appearance of Swiss cheese or iron/steel slag discard from an iron or steel mill. (I'm guessing most of the islands in New Britain if not all appear this way.) Just like Swiss cheese there are no real continual holes to be found, just many odd-shaped pot-marked ones of various sizes. The only sizable holes on the island that I saw were along the shores where water erosion has occurred on [a] consistent basis creating small bluffs or overhangs.
Main cave, next to boat, on Ambungi Island reputedly used by sauropod-like creature (© Brian Irwin and Todd Jurasek)
2) Aiu Island (nearest island to Ambungi, also owned by the Ambungi people). According to [an eyewitness called] Davis who lives on the island, he and others had been chased out of the sea on multiple occasions at night by something emanating a bright white light. They were spearfishing at night when a bright white light would come out of the horizon and chase them to shore. Davis couldn't tell if the light was an animal or not. After chasing the group to shore the light would then fly away to heights of the island. The men and boys spearfish at night off canoes. My guess is whatever the light was [it] was attracted to their flashlights maybe even more so than their presence or movement. (Flashlights are used to both guide their boats and underwater for spotting fish and predators.) The light fits the descriptions of the New Guinea pterosaur-like cryptids known as ropen. Flying brightly-lit nocturnal creatures were also reported to have been seen in Karadian in the past; one such story was told to me by [local missionary] Bryan Girard's son, Rist. Another person in Karadian told me about an encounter with lights there at night. No planes fly in PNG [Papua New Guinea] at night so they couldn't have been aircraft. As Brian and I travelled to Karadian along the Armio road I met a young ex-school teacher from the island of Bali, PNG (not Indonesia) whose name I forget (have picture of him). He told me of similar creatures on his island. He said a bright light flew over the ocean or travelled partially submerged in the water like an octopus with its head sticking out from Bali at night to another nearby island. He was familiar with the subject of living pterosaurs and brought up Umboi Island to me as well as Roy Mackal's famous New Britain lake cryptid [already known for his mokele-mbembe expeditions, Prof. Roy Mackal also investigated the migo of New Britain's Lake Dakataua during the 1990s].
3) Akinum. Brian and I visited the [New Britain] village of Akinum where Michael Hoffman filmed the "West New Britain Carcass" video that was posted on YouTube in January of 2014. We were led to believe the rotten carcass was buried by a back hoe at some point after washing ashore; however, it appears the remains may have just washed back into the sea. Michael accompanied us to Akinum as well as to Ambungi Island. A mechanic from Karadian who viewed the decaying remains said it was built like a wallaby with a saw on its back, had small front arms with four fingers on little hands and very large back legs. The legs were so large that two men had [a] hard time lifting and moving one of them. This was reported to me by missionary Bryan Girard, the poster of the YouTube video. There were conflicting reports as to what happened to the remains. Brian Irwin and I went to the village under the impression the remains were buried on the spot due to the stench. We also heard they were picked over by curiosity seekers and that the remains had just washed out slowly back to sea. It is my opinion based from talking to the locals that this is what most likely happened. The natives that we spoke with told us they had never seen the animal before and were adamant it did not live anywhere around there.
4) Crocodile Point. Brian and I looked into a story of a man (Graham Sangeo) who reportedly had fed fish to a small bipedal dinosaur for years near Crocodile Point. The animal turned out to be a male primate of some sort that walked primarily on two legs according to our guide Leo Sangeo, Graham's father. He guided us to the cave which is currently abandoned. Leo described the creature as brown colored, about a meter to a meter and a half tall, big muscular arms and shoulders. The arms were shorter than the legs and its knees and big legs could be seen. The animal's feet were like a dog's hind feet with five toes (I asked Leo repeatedly about this feature to make sure I understood him correctly), it had very small to no tail, and canines like a monkey or ape does. The creature would come down out of the cave at night [and] scrounge around, walking on two legs at least a part of the time. It could be seen at times seemingly staring out to sea as if it was watching the horizon. Leo and Graham and a few others would attach cooked fish to tall branches and lift them up to it. It would then eat the food out [of] its hands. Leo said the animal grew bigger over time. The creature eventually brought two babies. He said he never saw the female. I'm not sure if the others saw the female or not. Graham discovered the creature in 2011, feeding it until he left for school in 2014 or 2015; others continued afterward but eventually stopped and the creature disappeared. Based on the description I'm inclined to believe this was a small ape of some sort or possibly a small bigfoot like creature. I was told by at least one other person along the distant Andru River that wild hairy men could be found in the Whitman range.
5) Aivet Island. In 1992 John Manlel of Aivet Island had a startling encounter along the mangrove strewn shores of the island with what he described as a bright green dinosaur. He had been canoeing along the shores of the island around 4 pm when he accidentally startled the creature from about 20 or so yards away in open water. The animal attempted to submerge quickly but struggled because of how it was built. John said he watched it for about 5 minutes. He said he knew it lived on land because of the way it was built. The creature had two short hand-like front legs and much bigger back ones. The body was about 12 ft long with a very thick 5 to 6 ft tail that was about 8 in wide. The animal moved its tail back and forth as it moved through the water. John said the head looked like that of a dinosaur, the skin was rough like a crocodile and over-all build was kangaroo in shape. The creature had a small saw like structure on its back that became much bigger from back legs to the end of tail. There may have been an outlying ridge of small saw like structures along its tail like a crocodile has. If I can remember correctly the central ridge originating from the back ran between these. John said he never spoken to anyone but family about this encounter until he told Brian and I. He was frozen terrified by [it] when he sighted the creature and was adamant it was a dinosaur of some sort.
For the most part, the serrated-back water creatures sound very much like large crocodiles, but one would expect the local people to be very familiar with such beasts and not deem them to be anything other than crocodiles. Also, the bright green version reputedly spied by John Manlel, which had much shorter forelegs than hind legs, does not recall any crocodilian species known to exist today. Having viewed the 'West New Britain Carcass' video on YouTube (which can be accessed here), in my opinion it is the highly-decomposed remains of a large whale rather than anything reptilian, and various other zoologists and cryptozoologists who have seen it hold the same opinion, but some others favour a reptilian identity, ranging from a large crocodile or giant lizard to a bona fide dinosaur. Sadly, no physical samples from it were made available for formal scientific analysis, so the video is the only visible testament to this intriguing entity.
Two views of my Therizinosaurus model, reconstructed with feathers fringing its forelimbs (© Dr Karl Shuker)
As for the mysterious bipedal ape-like entity fed by Graham Sangeo: no species of monkey or ape is known from anywhere in New Guinea, but there have long been reports from here of a mysterious miniature bigfoot-like creature known locally as the kayadi. So if such a creature truly exists, perhaps this is what Sangeo had been feeding. Also of note is that Sangeo claimed that the adult female was never seen, i.e. indicating that they believed the adult individual bringing the two babies to have been a male. However, it may be that the latter was actually a female but with a large clitoris that its eyewitnesses had mistaken for a penis (in some primate species, famously including the spider monkeys Ateles spp., the adult female's clitoris is indeed noticeably large and superficially penis-like). After all, it is far more likely to have been an adult female than an adult male that was caring for the babies.
Brian Irwin and Todd Jurasek have asked me to announce that if anyone reading this account here has information concerning any of the mystery beasts sought by them in New Britain and its outlying islets, please contact them via Todd's email address: email@example.com
This ShukerNature blog article has been excerpted and expanded from my book Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors.