It's but a small, independent nation located in the southwestern Pacific ocean, north of Australia and east of Indonesia. The nation is so small, in fact, that is doesn't even fully encompass the small island on which it is located, sharing the western half of the island with the Indonesian province of Papua (formerly Irian Jaya). It has a total area of 178,704 square miles (462,840 sq km), and most of its inhabitants live in rural villages along the coast or in the rugged interior. High mountains and lush rain forests spread as far as the eye can see, reminiscent of a prehistoric world vanished long ago. Welcome, friend, to Papua New Guinea.
More Than Meets The Eye
Lest ye be fooled that this land is just like any other tropical paradise, we give thee ample warning. Strange creatures are said by some to inhabit the nearly impenetrable jungles ... large, dinosaur-like animals the size of vehicles, with teeth long enough to be seen from considerable distances. Fairytales? Figments of the imagination? You be the judge.
We begin more recently in March of 2004, when dinosaur-hype was again renewed with the sightings of "a three-metre tall, grey-coloured creature with a head like a dog and a tail like a crocodile." A multiplicity of news agencies picked up on the story, with headlines including: "Hunt for 'dinosaur' on volcanic island" (The Age), "'Dinosaur' Discovery In PNG" (SBS), and "Police hunt dinosaur-like creature on island" (IOL).
Before continuing, it must be noted that Papua New Guinea is also composed of several hundred other small islands. The sightings in March of 2004 were made on one of these particular islands, named New Britain (by English navigator William Dampier in 1700), which is the largest in the Bismarck Archipelago in the Solomon Sea. The island has high mountains and active volcanoes, one of which erupted in 1994 near the main city and port of Rabaul. Over 90,000 residents were forced to evacuate, and it later suffered damage from earthquake aftershocks, tsunamis, and heavy ash fall.
It was near Rabaul that the March sightings occurred, specifically a few miles south in a marsh just outside the provincial capital of Kokopo (see right).
As SBS (Special Broadcasting Service) reported:
A police hunting party has gone in search of a mysterious dinosaur-like creature after reported sightings in the jungles of Papua New Guinea.
Villagers in the volcanic island province of East New Britain said they fled in terror after seeing a three-metre tall, grey-coloured beast, with a head like a dog and the tail of a crocodile.
An eyewitness, Christine Samei, told reporters she had run for her life after stumbling across the animal, which she said was as fat as a 900-litre water tank.
"I heard the people talking about it and went there to see for myself. It's a very huge and ugly looking animal."
A government official said the villagers had identified the creature from books and movies about dinosaurs.
"They told us it was a dinosaur," said one official.
The creature was also said to have eaten three dogs! In any case, six police officers armed with M-16 assault rifles and villagers carrying bush knives searched the area, but came up empty-handed. Like Nessie of Loch Ness, Kokopo’s Mayor Albert Buanga said the dinosaur would make a great tourist attraction for the area.
As mere readers, however, what are we to think? An elaborate hoax? Did locals get together to construct and fabricate a media-grabbing story? Sure, in all fairness, they could have. But, when conducting just a little research, we find that this isn't the first reported sighting of a dinosaur-like creature in Papua New Guinea. In fact, to find the last one, we only have to go back to the year 1999.
Digging A Little Deeper
The Independent newspaper of PNG reported that a "dinosaur-like reptile" was seen on two occasions in the Lake Murray area, in Western Province.
It was on December 11, 1999, when villagers traveling in a canoe reported seeing a large animal wading in shallow water near Boboa.
The following day, a Seventh Day Adventist pastor and a church elder said they saw the animal not far from the first sighting.
The creature was described as having a body "as long as a dump truck," and was as wide as nearly two meters (7 feet). It sported a long neck and a long slender tail, and was walking on two hind legs "as thick as coconut palm tree trunks", with two smaller forlegs in front. The head was similar in shape to a cow's head, with large eyes and "sharp teeth as long as fingers." The skin was likened to that of a crocodile, and the creature had "largish triangular scoops on the back."
One similarity that we can immediately pinpoint is that witnesses of both animals likened what they saw to a dinosaur. Both creatures, also, were compared in some way to a crocodile. The first had a "tail like a crocodile," while the second's skin was "likened to that of a crocodile."
Also, both creatures were considerably wide. Christine Samei described the animal she saw as being as fat as a 900-litre water tank, while the creature spotted in 1999 was said to have been as wide as nearly two meters.
And lastly, both were apparently standing. The first was said to be three meters tall. Of course, when something is referred to as being tall, it usually means from head to foot, and in a standing position. Furthermore, three meters (10 feet) would make for a big animal, and if locals were only referring to its height from foot to shoulder (or back) as an animal walking on all fours, that would make for a ridiculously gigantic creature. No, it was three meters tall from head to foot, standing. The second creature's description, thankfully, wasn't so ambiguous. It clearly stood upright, as it was said to have been walking on two hind legs "as thick as coconut palm tree trunks", with two smaller forelegs in front.
Did they see the same type of dinosaur, if they indeed were dinosaurs? Possibly, although there are some slight differences. One possessed a head shaped like a dog, while the other sported a head shaped like a cow. Although different, however, these two shapes from a distance could easily be molded into a similar form. Lastly, the neck of the latter creature was described as being long, while no length of neck was mentioned for the first creature. It would help if we knew what the definition of "long" was, and also what type of neck the former creature possessed.
It is difficult to identify what type of dinosaurs (assuming they were dinosaurs) were seen during these two time periods. Not enough is known. From what is known, one particular dinosaur best matches the descriptions ... Iguanodon.
Excerpts from TA's Iguanodon page:
The first dinosaur ever to be discovered, Iguanodon was a large plant-eating ornithopod. Weighing from 6 to 8 tons, about 30 feet in length and standing nearly 15 feet tall, it walked upright on its two hind feet, making it "bipedal."
Scientists have been able to discover a great deal about how these animals lived. Staying primarily in low, swampy land where there were vast fields of plants called horsetails, Iguanodons primarily existed on this vegetarian diet. The name Iguanodon means "iguana tooth," being given this name because their teeth were much like the teeth of the iguana lizard of today, though much bigger. They possessed teeth only in the sides of their jaws, and as these teeth wore out, new ones grew in to take their place.
Fossil remains of Iguanodons have been discovered in all parts of the world. They were easily
one of the most common of the dinosaurs.
It's interesting to note that the Iguanodon was, as mentioned, one of the most common of the dinosaurs. If any dinosaur was to be found living today, it would make sense that it would be Iguanodon. It's also interesting to note that they are believed to have inhabited low, swampy areas, an environment that much of Papua New Guinea provides.
One thing previously mentioned that is still debatable is whether Iguanodon walked on two legs or four. More recently, it has been argued that it spent most of its time walking on four legs, although it may have run on its hind legs. Because we can't be sure either way, the testimonies of the witnesses who said the animal stood upright can neither be accepted or discredited.
One argument against the Iguanodon theory, at least with regards to the March sightings, is that the creature reportedly ate three dogs. Iguanodon was vegetarian, although whether strictly vegetarian is another question. Or, quite possibly, the creature simply killed the dogs, leaving locals to think that it ate them as well.
It is a very real possibility that dinosaurs are still alive today. As for what types of dinosaurs, that is left for us to wonder. The Apatosaurus (Mokele-mbembe)? The Elasmosaurus (Nessie)? The Iguanodon (Papua New Guinea)? We presently don't know, but perhaps someday we will know.
1. Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia 1999 Standard (CD), article: ‘Papua New Guinea’.
2. SBS World News, "Dinosaur" discovery in PNG, http://www9.sbs.com.au/theworldnews/region.php?id=80644®ion=2.
3. SMH, Hunt for 'dinosaur' on volcanic island, http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2004/03/12/1078594554726.html.
4. The Independent (Papua New Guinea), December 30, 1999, p. 6.