Democratic Republic of Congo’s government will now allow oil exploration in two protected wildlife parks.
The Virunga and Salonga parks, where there will be drilling allowed, are home to animals including bush elephants, critically endangered mountain gorillas, bush elephants, the Congo peacock and the bonobo, an endangered ape.
Environmental activists are strongly opposing the decision calling it a ‘risk to wildlife’.
Around one-fifth of Virunga national park will be opened to oil drilling, according to the BBC.
Both parks are classed as Unesco World Heritage Sites. Salonga covers 36,000 sq km (13,900 sq miles) of the Congo Basin; the world’s second-largest rainforest.
The government said it had ‘approved commissions charged with preparing plans to declassify parts of the parks, including 1,720 sq km (664 sq miles), or 21.5 per cent, of Virunga’.
— Tom Pickford (@SlingyMcChine1) June 30, 2018
After the decision was announced, people were reacting with ‘disgust’ on social media.
One person wrote:
Absolutely disgusted DR Congo have started drilling for oil in national parks @gorillacd pure greed by the government. What can we do to stop this? [sic].
Another added: ‘FFS. What idiocy and disregard for such highly endangered wildlife is this? The threatened animals here are more precious and important than oil. Madness.’ [sic]
Journalist Samira Sawlani posted an email from a group of national government organisations who are opposing the move.
Group of NGOs have written to DR Congo’s Minister for Hydrocarbons, protesting plans to drill for oil in Salonga & Virunga National Parks. (The deal will have a huge impact on the wildlife)
Group of NGOs have written to DR Congo's Minister for Hydrocarbons, protesting plans to drill for oil in Salonga & Virunga National Parks.
(The deal will have a huge impact on the wildlife) pic.twitter.com/FZpdgI0zVo
— Samira Sawlani (@samirasawlani) May 10, 2018
Biologist, Daniel Schneider also posted on Twitter to say ‘we must stop this’.
#British oil company Soco International has been given permission to drill in Virunga National Park in the #Congo, home of critically endangered Mountain Gorilla. Last month 6 Rangers died defending the #gorillas. We must stop this. [sic]
DEVESTATING. Today, #British oil company Soco International has been given permission to drill in Virunga National Park in the #Congo, home of critically endangered Mountain Gorilla. Last month 6 Rangers died defending the #gorillas. We must stop this. RT to start #TheResistance pic.twitter.com/jYYQxX70E8
— Daniel Schneider (@BiologistDan) June 30, 2018
He then added:
The park was closed to the public after the attack on the rangers. Now we find there will be oil drilling in the park. I’m suspicious…. Very suspicious. The Last few Mountain Gorillas will be the ultimate victims or our oil greed. [sic].
As well as a potential risk to wildlife, there are also fears the drilling will release large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, therefore contributing to global warming.
The government defended its right to authorise drilling, and said they were ‘mindful of protecting animals and plants’ in the two parks.
Earlier this year, rangers announced Virunga would be closed to visitors and tourists until at least 2019 after two British tourists were kidnapped, along with their driver, and a park ranger was killed.
Robert Jesty, Bethan Davies, and their driver were kidnapped in the park by armed men, before being released several days later, but ranger Rachel Makissa Baraka, 25, was killed.
According to the BBC, the region has suffered ‘rising instability and violence’, with ‘at least 12 rangers killed in clashes with armed groups and poachers in the past year’.
Surely the animals are the most important here, not oil.
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