Half a century ago, Belgian Zoologist Bernard Heuvelmans first codified cryptozoology in his book On the Track of Unknown Animals.

The Centre for Fortean Zoology (CFZ) are still on the track, and have been since 1992. But as if chasing unknown animals wasn't enough, we are involved in education, conservation, and good old-fashioned natural history! We already have three journals, the largest cryptozoological publishing house in the world, CFZtv, and the largest cryptozoological conference in the English-speaking world, but in January 2009 someone suggested that we started a daily online magazine! The CFZ bloggo is a collaborative effort by a coalition of members, friends, and supporters of the CFZ, and covers all the subjects with which we deal, with a smattering of music, high strangeness and surreal humour to make up the mix.

It is edited by CFZ Director Jon Downes, and subbed by the lovely Lizzy Bitakara'mire (formerly Clancy), scourge of improper syntax. The daily newsblog is edited by Corinna Downes, head administratrix of the CFZ, and the indexing is done by Lee Canty and Kathy Imbriani. There is regular news from the CFZ Mystery Cat study group, and regular fortean bird news from 'The Watcher of the Skies'. Regular bloggers include Dr Karl Shuker, Dale Drinnon, Richard Muirhead and Richard Freeman.The CFZ bloggo is updated daily, and there's nothing quite like it anywhere else. Come and join us...

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

RICHARD MUIRHEAD: Ropen evidence

Richard Muirhead is an old friend of the CFZ. I have been friends with him for 40 years now, since we were kids together in Hong Kong. He is undoubtedly one of the two best researchers I have ever met; he and Nigel Wright both have what Charlie Fort would have no doubt called a wild talent; a talent for going into a library, unearthing a stack of old newspapers, and coming back with some hitherto overlooked gem of arcane knowledge.

Hello again. In this blog I present what might be new information on the mystery flying creature of Papua New Guinea, the ropen, which some believe to be a prehistoric survivor; a living pterosaur. It has been another of those serendipitous discoveries I make from time to time. About 2 weeks ago I went to Buxton, Derbyshire, U.K. to look around the town. Buxton is about half an hour by bus from Macclesfield where I live.

My friend and I went to Scriveners book shop in the town. It`s about 4 floors tall and whilst on the ground floor my eyes roamed joyfully along a shelf and I spotted The Two Roads of Papua by Evelyn Cheesman published by Jarrolds in 1935.

Cheesman (1881-1969) was a British entomologist and traveller. She was unable to train for a career as a veterinary surgeon due to restrictions on women`s education. Instead she studied entomology and was the first woman to be hired as curator at Regent`s Park Zoo, London. In 1924 she was invited to join a zoological expedition to the Marquesas and Galapagos Islands. She spent approximately twelve years on similar expeditions, travelling to New Guinea, the New Hebrides and other islands in the Pacific Ocean. In New Guinea she made a collecting expedition to the coastal area between Aitape and Jayapura (known as Hollandia at the time) and visited the Cyclop Mountains near Jayapura, collecting insects. Evelyn assisted at the Natural History Museum, London for many years as a volunteer. She was awarded an OBE for her contribution to entomology. At least one species of insect is named after her: the Costomedes cheesmanae

She also collected reptiles and amphibians and several New Guinea species were named in her honour: Lipinia cheesmanae (P
arker, 1940 - a skink; Platymantis cheesmanae (Parker,1940) a
direct breeding frog; Litoria cheesmani (Tyler,1964) a tree frog; Barygenys cheesmanae (Parker , 1936) – a microhylid frog; Cophixalus cheesmanae (Parker,1934).(1)

So I flicked through to see a few pages on mysterious lights and “ping” - I immediately thought “ropen”.

The thing is a ropen has never as far as I know been seen by a westerner but this light phenomena of the grave-robbing ropen has been seen by both westerners and natives alike. This bioluminescence or whatever it is, is also associated with the flying snake of Namibia. (2)

On getting home I looked up the light in my copy of Searching for Ropens by Jonathan Whitcomb, 2nd edition:

Interviews by Blume (3) suggest that the bioluminescence may relate to secretions that seem to drip from the creatures as they fly, like “sparklers” falling to the ground. The secretions are said to burn human skin, sometimes seriously. In parts of Papua New Guinea the creature is worshipped. Some islanders on Umboi want nobody disturbing ropens, but on Manus Island people are simply curious about them. (4)

Cheesman saw the lights near a settlement of Mondo. Whitcomb does not mention Mondo in his book. This is to the northwest of the location where he and his fellow cryptozoologists were looking for the ropen, which was on the east coast of Papua New Guinea. But the "modern" ropen has been seen in mountainous areas of the country, such as Mount Tolo and Mount Barik, just as in Cheesman`s time:

…Then it became evident what I had already supposed,that the flashes had been following a certain ridge of hills. Three ridges are visible one above the other in that direction, the highest one on the horizon. It was on the middle that this phenomenon appeared, and it seemed as if the flashes must have kept closely to the top of that one ridge. About a week later precisely the same thing occurred. There were the same sort of atmospheric conditions, except that this time the sky was rather cloudy...It may be dismissed at once that the flashes were due to any human agency…I could only imagine they were caused by some sort of gas escaping from crevices of rock. (5)

Interestingly Cheesman was told about similar lights in Queensland, again on a hill, and Whitcomb was told about a ropen near Perth, Australia in 1997. I e-mailed the address on the main website dedicated to searching for the ropen after seeing the book by Cheesman but so far I have had no reply.

(1) Evelyn Cheesman Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evelyn_Cheesman
(2) R.Muirhead The Flying Snake of Namibia: An Investigation. CFZ Press. 1996
(3) Jim Blume, eyewitness to ropen, 1996
(4) J.Whitcomb. Search
ing for Ropens .2nd edition. 2007. p.104.
(5) E.Cheesman. The Two Roads of Papua. 1935. p.226

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