Mountain gorillas in Virunga National Park. Photo by: Cai Tjeenk Willink/Creative Commons 3.0.
Last Friday, the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) announced it was considering changing the boundaries of Virunga National Park to accommodate oil exploitation. Africa’s oldest park, Virunga is home to around a quarter of the world’s mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei) as well as thousands of other species, many of them threatened with extinction.
Global conservation giant, WWF, has responded by asking the DRC to “drop any plans” to change the park’s borders, according to the AFP.
Last year, the battle over Virunga and oil exploitation reached a seemingly brief reprieve when Soco International announced that it would pull out of Virunga National Park–but only after it finished seismic surveys looking for oil. A British company, Soco had faced years of international pressure over its oil exploration inside the park The results of those surveys is expected to be handed over later this year to the DRC government.
Any border changes would have to be approved by the UNESCO, as Virunga has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1994. No formal request has been made to date.
Virunga, which covers 780,000 hectares, has already been placed on the World Heritage in Danger list due to armed conflict in the region that has repeatedly erupted inside the park.