KINSHASA, 29 (Reuters) – Democratic Republic of Congo’s government said on Friday that it has decided to open up parts of Virunga and Salonga National Parks, home to mountain gorillas, bonobos and other rare species, to oil drilling.
Earlier proposals to allow oil exploration in the parks met fierce resistance from environmental activists, who say drilling would place wildlife at risk and release huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, causing global warming.
The government has defended its right to authorize drilling anywhere in the country and said it is mindful of protecting animals and plants in the two UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The cabinet said in a statement that it had approved the establishment of inter-ministerial commissions charged with preparing plans to declassify sections of the parks, including 1,720 sq km, or 21.5 percent, of eastern Congo’s Virunga.
Virunga sits on the forest-cloaked volcanoes of central Africa and is home to over half the global population of mountain gorillas. British company Soco International performed seismic testing there but let its license lapse in 2015.
Salonga covers 33,350 sq km of the Congo Basin, the world’s second-largest rainforest, and contains bonobos, forest elephants, dwarf chimpanzees and Congo peacocks.
(Reporting By Amedee Mwarabu; Writing by Aaron Ross; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)
Watch the trailer for Virunga: Consider This (true story)
“In the forested depths of eastern Congo lies Virunga National Park, one of the most bio-diverse places on Earth and home to the world’s last remaining mountain gorillas. It is in this wild yet enchanted place where a small and embattled team of park rangers protect the UNESCO World Heritage Site from armed militia, poachers, and corporations struggling to control the Congo’s rich natural resources.”