Obenge : Most Distant Outpost of the Opala Backwater

Mama A.T. visits her impoverished but prodigal brood

and tholloni looks right back
A red colobus monkey, with baby in its lap, watches us at Losekola
Madame A.T. with Obenge child
The territorial administrator or Mama A.T., as she is called, greets an Obenge child. The TL2 compound is in the background.

Adele, the territorial administrator from Opala left a devoted husband and two adoring toddlers in order to accompany us to Obenge. She was more than a week away, not only from her family, but also from the territorial administration. WE appreciated it; the visit was a good thing for the TL2 project and definitely put Obenge on the map of the local administration.
looking for a first campsite from dugout
We started looked for a campsite as night fell. Mama A.T. was sitting just in front of me in the dugout.

Over the years, John and I have known many territorial administrators who used their position to gain gratuities and beltline. But Mama A.T. from Obenge did not invite bribes …. This was business.
A stroll through Obenge
I accompanied Mama A.T. on her stroll through Obenge. People were amazed and delighted that she had come to visit them.

Mama A.T. took full advantage to warn the citizen’s of Obenge to stay away from brigands and the illicit activities by which they live. Her examples were Colonel Thoms and Major Ranger, the two Maimai that recently “ruled” this little village. We toured Obenge together and she questioned many of its inhabitants.
Obenge village listens to Mme A.T.
The whole village of Obenge gathered to listen to the Mama A.T.’s message.

All of this was to be expected, after all she did come as far as Obenge, but what really surprised us is that she agreed – and eagerly – to accompany us to the primate camp, Losekola, a ten kilometer trek through the forest. She really wanted to know what we did, what we were all about.
madame A.T. crossing the Losekola river
There is no short cut for dignitaries. The territorial administrator crosses the Losekola River on her way to our camp.

Afterwards I wondered if part of the reason she pushed all the way to Losekola was because the Bishop of Isangi told her that our real activity was diamond mining – and she wanted to see for herself. If so, we congratulate her. It is always easier to just believe rumor.
Together with Mme A.T. at Losekola.
Together with mama A.T. on the primate study site near Losekola camp.

Whatever reason she came, we were able to show her the trail grid, the monkeys, and importantly, the skeletons left from the elephants poached by Colonel Thom and Major Ranger.
A.T. with an elephant poached by Thom's group
With bones from a poached elephant on the Losekola trail grid.

We were not the ones to tell Mama AT about the elephant killing but rather Jean Mutetela. He was at his forest fishing camp when the poachers came. We stood around a knee-high skull from which the ivory had been severed while Mutetela told us how it took a full day to flay and hack the meat from the carcass.
He told how Colonel Thoms’s men made a two night camp at the site of the slaughter then carried the meat back to his own camp where they built several large smoking racks to dry it. The whole camp was buzzing with flies.
Jean T explains the poaching episode
Jean Mutetela, in front of the destroyed shelter, explains the poaching epidsodes.
Jean Tetela giving us the history
And how the elephant family returned to the scene.

The surprising bit of the story was what happened afterwards. Mutetela described this with wide open eyes. The family of elephants came back. He pointed to the destroyed shelter the poachers had built. The elephants trampled the shelter and they scattered what was left of the carcass. And – Mutetela paused , “ they still come back sometimes – just to visit their mother’s bones.”
Mme A.T. recovers at Losekola
Mama A.T. recovers from a wasp sting at Losekola camp.


  1. Posted 2008-05-30 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    Hi –
    It’s fantastic that you managed to get Mama A.T. to accompany you all that way, and to really learn about what you do – and to see and hear for herself what is happening in your region.
    It’s quite common to hear of elephants returning to the site of a close relation’s demise, but nonetheless the story is equally moving each time – elephants are such amazing and complex creatures.
    Thanks for sharing your journey with us,

  2. Posted 2008-05-30 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    Kudos to Mama A.T. for making the trek to Obenge and beyond to learn the truth. That’s a great story that Mutetela tells, too. Very sad. Eles are so brilliant. So, having quite the adventure this trip, eh Terese?


  3. Posted 2008-05-31 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    Yep — It was an adventure that took a bit of recovering….but well worth it and I am eager to make the trip to the souther part of TL2— hopefully in just a couple months. That is the center of bonobo distribution in the area. T

  4. Greg Davies
    Posted 2008-06-01 at 4:34 am | Permalink

    Wow, excellent that she travelled all the way to the primate camp itself.

    She seems an administrator with a difference.

    Interesting behaviour by the elephants.

    Greg Davies

  5. Petie
    Posted 2008-06-02 at 7:04 am | Permalink

    Great story Terese. Keep up the good work….XXP

  6. michael
    Posted 2008-06-02 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

    there are some people to respect in this world.
    one of them is madame coco of gabon
    one of them are you and your husband.
    and one of them is this madame of opala.

  7. Posted 2008-06-03 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for sharing and for doing all that you do…

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