It is with great shock that we have learned that two companies listed in the London Stock Exchange, SOCO and Dominion, plan to drill for oil in Africa’s oldest park, the Virunga National Park. Home to about 200 mountain gorillas, nearly a quarter of the world’s surviving population of these majestic great apes, Virunga has survived and thrived due to heavy investment by the DRC government and conservation organisations. To have such a park survive in a war-torn and mostly lawless province like Kivu sure takes great effort and for two ‘respected’ companies to want to erase many years of conservation effort merely for profit is, for lack of a stronger word, atrocious!
Xinhua News Agency reports that “Company maps seen by international media indicate that SOCO intends to drill through much of the park in areas with some of the highest savannah biomass in the world.” These actions will be costly for the area’s precious and fragile biodiversity, including not only the charismatic gorillas, but also chimpanzees, hippos, elephants and other rare species, as well as the local population who benefit from tourism and sustainable fishing inside the national park. Some 30,000 local fishermen fish sustainably on the park’s Lake Edward, a Ramsar protected site.
Virunga is a recognised UNESCO World Heritage Site home to many species of mammals, birds and reptiles, and an impressive diversity of landscape and habitats. How dominion and SOCO would wish to jeopardize this highly important biodiversity refuge is beyond comprehension.
Conservationists, including those at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) are calling on the government of DRC to honor and enforce the oil exploration ban that prohibits drilling inside the park. They have also petitioned the UK companies “to respect the law and international convention and to abandon their harmful plans for exploration.”
For some time since it’s inception in 2006 WildlifeDirect supported Virunga National Park through funds raised from ordinary individuals in America and Europe. These funds payed wages for the armed rangers who are now restoring law and order in the park. Former WildlifeDirect director, Emmanuel DeMerode is now the director of Virunga National Park. Our investment in the Virunga is significant, we cannot stand aside and let our efforts and those of others go to waste. WildlifeDirect therefore categorically condemns this attack on the Virunga, and calls for all action – from the DRC government, to Dominion and SOCO and the international community – to end this madness.
Virunga shall not die.