I plan to bring up the misidentification interpretation in the appendix of my upcoming nonfiction book Searching for Ropens and Finding God, but let’s take a brief look at it now. When I give somebody a chess lesson, I might say, “look at the whole board.” Beginners often overlook a good move when they see one piece and one move for it, and they make that move before considering many other possible moves. I don’t suggest we try to imitate a chess computer program, evaluating every possible move, yet we need to expand our view and see the broader perspective.
If only one or two persons had reported a living pterosaur, in recent years and in one part of the world, we could be excused for thinking of misidentification and dismissing two reports. Consider the reality. Many persons, from various countries and of various cultures and beliefs, have seen long-tailed apparently-featherless flying creatures. Some persons reported a long neck and a horn-like appendage coming out of the back of the head, if fact each of those two characteristics is common. Consider now some of the critical sightings that cannot reasonably be dismissed as misidentified birds or bats.
In clear daylight, seven native boys, on Umboi Island around 1994, saw a gigantic featherless creature fly over Lake Pung. This was not a fruit bat mostly obscured in dense vegetation in the dark of night—a long-tailed creature in clear daylight over a lake. Somebody from a Western country might dismiss a report from a native who estimated the tail was seven meters long, but how would that skeptic respond to a comparison between that sighting and one to the south, a sighting in 1944 by an American soldier who estimated the tail length of the “pterodactyl” at “at least ten or fifteen feet?” Nobody would think of Duane Hodgkinson as a superstitious native; he’s a clear-thinking plane pilot and flight instructor. Yet why assume that Gideon Koro, Wesley Koro, and Mesa Agustin are superstitious natives who saw only a bird or a bat? Their descriptions may not match up closely to any known fossil of a pterosaur, but why should a particular modern pterosaur correspond to any particular known fossil? The creature they encountered is far more like a Rhamphorhynchoid pterosaur than it is like any known bird or bat, and it appears to have been closely related to the “pterodactyl” seen many years earlier by Hodgkinson and his army buddy on the mainland of New Guinea.
Of course some birds and bats, in certain conditions, can be misidentified by certain eyewitnesses and reported as living pterosaurs . . . theoretically. But many critical sightings, actual reports, cannot be dismissed with the word “misidentification.”