(C. Michael Rothman)
A megalania skull
The Artrellia, also called the Toongie, pukpuk bilong tri, and piako, is an enormous monitor lizard reported to inhabit the highlands of eastern New Guinea, as well as some of the flat, swampier terrain on the south of the island. Described as a large 25-foot monitor lizard with a somewhat crocodilian appearance and large shark-like teeth. They have brownish/grey scales that help them camouflage.
Some reports claim artrellias, like other monitor lizards (both confirmed and undescribed), can briefly stand on their hind legs. They are allegedly good climbers and are often seen in trees. They use this to their advantage in hunting, by ambushing their prey and dropping down from overhanging tree branches. They are said to eat tree kangaroos, wallabies, and cassowaries, including their bones. Locals claim they even occasionally eat humans.
Some have theorized artrellias may be the same cryptid as the Burrunjor of Australia since they are both described as 20-foot monitor lizards, with bark-like skin, that is capable of briefly standing upright. Furthermore, much of Australia's fauna also live in New Guinea, such as wallabies, echidnas and cassowaries.
Artrellias have allegedly been reported as far back as the 19th century, but possibly the first detailed sighting was in the mid-’30s. Richard Archbold, the first explorer to try to map out the highlands of New Guinea, was warned by locals of artrellias, saying that if they encountered one, they would likely never be seen again.
Many sightings occurred During WWII, when Australian, Japanese, and American soldiers recorded sightings of gigantic lizards. The former colonial district commissioner of Port Moresby, David Marsh, claimed that in the ’40s, he saw massive, 15-20 foot long lizards multiple times in western Papua New Guinea.
In 1959, Australian politician Rachel Cleland claimed to have seen an artrellia in captivity while visiting a mission station near Balimo. In 1960, locals of the remote village of Kairuku Hiri came across a 30 foot moulted skin and a jawbone of some kind of enormous lizard. Unfortunately, it was never scientifically analyzed. In 1961, explorers, Robert Grant and David George witnessed an artrellia. It was 26 feet long, with grey skin, four feet at the shoulder and had a three-foot-long neck.
In 1979, Col. Bashord-Snell interviewed about 20 artrellia witnesses. He theorized artrellias may be misidentified Salvadori’s Monitors, a large lizard native to New Guinea, but their maximum length is 10-13 feet, nowhere near 25 feet and they don’t have grey skin.
On December 16th, 1979, explorer Ian Redmond was resting on a log outside the village of Tati, when he heard crashing and footfalls, which he assumed was a group of hunters. When the noise got very close to him, he looked to see what it was. only about 10 feet away, he saw an enormous lizard's head, the size of a horse’s, peaking out of the foliage behind another log. He grabbed for his camera, but the animal walked away before he could take a photo. He did, however, find tracks on a nearby creekbed, with 8.5 cm long, 4 cm wide forefoot tracks. The heels of the hindfoot were spaced 24 cm apart and were clear enough in the mud that he could see the imprint of scales.
Less than a month after Ian Redmond’s sighting, he was walking with his guide, Buwae Gire, from one village to another. After explaining his encounter, Gire said he heard that an old man sat on top of an artrellia, thinking it was a log. The creature reared up on its hind legs, knocking the old man off, causing him to run away in terror. Gire claimed he has also seen artrellias before, with one reaching more than 16 feet long. He even said that he has killed and eaten young artrellias as bushmeat.
In February of 2008, there were multiple reports of a komodo dragon-like lizard around the outskirts of the city of Lae, in the Morobe province of Papua New Guinea. One of the sightings was when Rikas Poka and his friend Angas Kisia walked to Angas's mother's house. They heard a strange noise in the garden and assumed it was Angas's mother, when a large monitor lizard suddenly dropped from something and quickly sprinted away through the grass. They said it had a massive body like a small coconut tree trunk, with brown scales, and a long tail. The lizard was the size of a man, which is smaller than other artrellia reports but is significantly larger than any other lizard known in the area.
On September 10th, 2020, British cryptozoologist Karl Shuker received an email from Jordan Beck, who was the son of a missionary who worked in West Papua after he made a blog post about the artrellia. He claimed that the tribe they worked with adamantly believed in a giant man-eating lizard, 15 to 20 feet in length. He showed one of the native Papuans an image of a Komodo dragon and claimed that photo depicted “the lizard that eats people.” when Beck showed them images of a Salvadori’s monitor, they said that that’s a different kind of animal, as it was much smaller and had spots. Beck claimed that he never saw one of these lizards, but did see a 15 cm wide monitor lizard's footprint on a riverbank.