Mar 18

The Democratic Republic of Congo government has suspended oil exploration activities in the Virunga National Park, home to endangered mountain gorillas, following campaigns by environmental groups.  

The Environment Ministry issued a statement saying that all activities would be put on hold until the environmental impact of such a project was thoroughly assessed.

Photo of mountain gorilla silverback

Mountain gorilla silverback

One of the most bio-diverse places on earth 

Established in 1925, Virunga National Park was Africa’s first National Park. It is thought to be one of the most bio-diverse places on earth, containing a world famous population of mountain gorillas, a subspecies of the eastern gorilla, as well as important populations of forest elephants, chimpanzees and hippos. It is also listed on the UN’s list of World Heritage sites in danger

Despite its evident importance for the preservation of numerous endangered species, UK-based companies SOCO and Dominio intend to drill for oil throughout the park. This has raised fears amongst conservationists that drilling would damage the park’s ecosystem, as well as increase tension in a politically volatile area where numerous armed groups continue to operate.

Photo of forest elephant herd in deep jungle

Forest elephant herd in deep jungle

A commitment to long-term prosperity 

However, the Environment Ministry has rejected the companies’ Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), branding it “premature and superficial.” Minister José E.B. Endundo said he would not allow work within the park for now, and said his government would initiate a thorough and transparent Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) to decide whether such a project could be considered in one of the world’s most precious and fragile nature parks. 

In a WWF press release, Allard Blom, Director of WWF’s Congo program, said “we applaud the Environment Ministry for recognizing the value in preserving natural resources in Virunga National Park, reflecting their commitment to long-term prosperity over the short-term profits of oil companies.” 

“What we hope to see next is a firm declaration guaranteeing there will be no exploration in this pristine park now or in the future. Allowing oil exploration in this iconic park would set an extremely dangerous precedent that even the most precious places on earth are open for oil and gas development.”

Photo of mountain gorilla with Volcano Visoke, Virunga National Park, in background

Mountain gorilla with Volcano Visoke, Virunga National Park, in background

Drilling to continue in Uganda 

Oil drilling is still expected to proceed in the Ugandan owned part of the National Park despite the Congolese decision, leading WWF to call for the companies to respect the law and abandon the harmful exploration plans. 

Read the WWF press release 

Watch 24 videos of the eastern gorilla on ARKive. 

Alex Royan, ARKive Species Text Author