Africa's prized park needs protection from oil threat



Posted on 30 March 2012  | 
Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is Africa’s oldest and most biodiverse national park and a World Heritage Site. Almost half of the world’s remaining mountain gorillas live inside the park, along with numerous birds, reptiles and mammals found nowhere else on Earth. But its under threat from British company looking for oil.

Marc Languy is WWF’s Green Heart of Africa Initiative Leader and has sent in this update:

“Over the past two weeks, WWF has received alarming reports from our conservation partners working in Virunga National Park, that British oil company SOCO International is making preparations for oil exploration within park boundaries.

Virunga is an “integral reserve” under DRC national law and its World Heritage Status clearly forbids any type of industrial exploration within the Park. The company does have authorisation to explore for oil outside Virunga National Park and above it by aerial surveys. But if SOCO confirms its repeated intention to explore for oil on the ground within the park the company will be breaching national laws and international conventions.

WWF has been working in Virunga National Park for over 40 years together with the Congolese government and many other conservation organizations dedicated to preserving the area’s unique natural treasures. Shockingly, in that time, more than 100 Virunga rangers have given their lives in the fight to protect this jewel of Africa from those who wish to destroy it.

Having survived years of armed conflict, it is devastating to see an oil company jeopardise the park’s people and wildlife in its pursuit of profit. It’s not only because of the drilling and pollution that oil exploration will damage the park – the associated influx of people brings a risk of renewed conflict that could have a devastating impact on the lives of local community members, and on the park’s endangered species.

European governments have a responsibility to ensure that companies headquartered in their territories respect international conventions and national laws, including when operating overseas. So we’re asking companies and their shareholders and investors to join us in declaring World Heritage Sites off limits for oil exploration.

There are very few extraordinary places of biodiversity and beauty remaining on Earth where nature provides so many benefits to mankind. Virunga National Park is one of them and it should remain untarnished for future generations.”

A SOCO vehicle, with Congolese military escort, enters Virunga National Park.
© WWF / Coalition Soc. Civil North Kivu Enlarge
Virunga National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo
Virunga National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo
© Kate Holt / WWF-UK Enlarge
Park guards patrolling on the boundary of Virunga National Park. Democratic Republic of the Congo.
© WWF-Canon / Martin HARVEY Enlarge

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