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Saturday, 26 November 2011

New Guinea Giant Hornbill

Back in April I mentioned the sightings in New Guinea of a sort of giant hornbill, the Kusa Kap, which was confusing the search for possible pterosaurs (or "Ropens" in this case). To set the stage, I'll quote the last thing I said on the subject:
In the Torres Strait region between New Guinea and Queensland, Australia, there is supposed to be a tremendouis flying bird the same size as the Ropen is said to be (allegedly a twenty-foot wingspan) this is the Cryptid Giant Hornbill the Kusa Kap. Karl Shuker mentions this in his book The Beasts That Hide From Men on page 168, from a statement made by an 18th century Naturalist. I have a very good drawing of one and it is clearly a hornbill, presumably at the size of a large eagle (that is, probably 150% the size of a rhinoceros hornbill, or 200% at most-making it at a 10 foot winspan) I am willing to say that wiotnesses might have estimated its size as twice too large: park rangers have stated that as a general rule of thumb in estimations made of unfamiliar species in other circumstances.

I had always intended to make up another blog posting on this, but right now the main problem is that I do NOT have permission to publish the material in my possession.

Best Wishes, Dale D.
27 April 2011 08:27

Karl Shuker's text follows:
The Torres Straits separates New Guinea from the Northernmost tip of Queensland [Australia] and contains many unexplored islets. According to the 18th century naturalist Luigi d'Albertis, among others,[the area] houses a huge species of hornbill known as the Kusa Kap. The largest known species include the familiar great Indian hornbill Buceros bicornis and the rhinoceros hornbill B. rhinoceros (from Malaysia, the Sundas and Borneo)attain a length of four feet, but these pale into insignificance alongside the Kusa Kap-whose alleged 22-foot wingspan, not to mention its inclination for carrying dugongs aloft in its claws, more closely recall the elephant-transporting Roc! Moreover the noise of its wings flapping in flight is said to resemble the roar of a steam engine! [in the next paragraph it is added that witnesses have indeed likened the sound of a rhinoceros hornbill's flapping wings to the chugging of a steam locomotive-DD]

Subsequently I came across another posting on the matter from Chad Arment.

The Giant Hornbill, Giant Bird in New Guinea

From Nature, (Nov. 25, 1875), V. 13, p. 76.
An interesting letter appears in yesterday's Daily News from Mr. Smithurst, the engineer of the steamer which made the voyage up the newly discovered Baxter River in New Guinea, referred to in Sir Henry Rawlinson's address at the Geographical Society last week. The river seems to be a magnificent one, and could evidently be made navigatable to a considerable distance inland. The exploring party found the banks to consist mainly of mangrove swamps, though, near the end of the journey, high clay banks with Eucalyptus globulus were found. Scarcely any natives were seen, though there were frequent signs of their being about. Mr. Smithurst refers to a very remarkable bird, which, so far as we know, has not hitherto been described. The natives state that it can fly away with a dugong, a kangaroo, or a large turtle. Mr. Smithurst states he saw and shot at a specimen of this wonderful animal, and that "the noise caused by the flapping of its wings resembled the sound of a locomotive pulling a long train very slowly." He states that "it appeared to be about sixteen or eighteen feet across the wings as it flew, the body dark brown, the breast white, neck long, and beak long and straight." In the stiff clay of the river bank Mr. Smithurst states that he saw the footprints of some large animal, which he "took to be a buffalo or wild ox," but he saw no traces of the animal. These statements are very wonderful, and before giving credence to them we had better await the publication of the official account of the voyage. A very fair collection of rocks, stones, birds, insects, plants, moss, and orchids has been made, which will be submitted to a naturalist for his opinion. The dates of Mr. Smithurst's communication are from August 30 to Sept. 7.

[The same legendary bird is also said to live in Queensland but that is also to be expected}

Shuker's illustration on the Kusa Kap.
Public Domain Image: we both own the same book.

Now this might seem to be as far as we could go on the matter but as a matter of fact a certain drawing of a Ropen is circulating around the internet and illustrating articles on "Living pterosaurs". One site I saw discussed all such sughtings together, the Ropens along with the Kongamatos, and called this picture a Kongamato-but in the context of the article that was being used as a generic and not specific term, indicating the whole category of "Living pterosaurs" And this drawing is not only a bird with feathered tail and feathered wings folded bird-style, it is pretty obviously meant to be a kind of hornbill.

Now given the circumstances I suspect the sightings actually made at sea to be manta rays again. But inland on Northern Australia, New Guinea and on the islands in the strait, there could well be a gigantic and still-unknown species of hornbill. How big it gets is a problem.
But it seems helpful that a bird with a wingspan reported as 22 feet across in the original notices became only sixteen to eighteen feet across when fired upon by an experienced hunter (who unfortunately also did not bag the bird, or the problem would be already solved) My guess is that it is the size of the largest eagles, ten to twelve feet across, but in the largest specimens only. And it does not carry off dugongs but it does seem to have some "Thunderbird" stories attached to it independantly from the North American legends (Unless the legends actually are connected, which would also be significant to know). Since the large hornbills might well have a wingspan of 5-6 feet in males, I feel pretty secure at making ten to twelve feet the maximum allowable for the unknown species. It could well turn out to be much less more commonly. And hornbills will commonly eat just about anything they can overpower as well as fruits and insects, so that part is plausible enough also. Perhaps the islander populations tend to be beachcombers and if a dead dugong should happen to turn up, the big birds might well gravitate toward it.(This is similarly my explanation for the association of Thunderbirds with whales)

1 comment:


    Timely with the "Deadly Powers" author interviewed in the link given from CFZ...mentions birds with 18 foot wing span feeding on humans in North America....


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