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WWF Welcomes Decision to Suspend Oil Exploration in Virunga World Heritage Site

Africa’s Oldest National Park is Home to Endangered Gorillas, Elephants and Hippo

WASHINGTON, DC, March 17, 2011 – World Wildlife Fund (WWF) welcomes the decision of the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to withdraw the permission to drill for oil in Africa’s oldest park, Virunga National Park.

The environment ministry of DRC issued a statement today declaring they would suspend any activities related to oil exploration in Virunga until the potential impact of such a project is thoroughly assessed.

Minister José E.B. Endundo said he would not allow the UK-based companies SOCO and Dominion to carry out any 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.

“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,” said Allard Blom, Director WWF’s Congo program.  “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.”

According to WWF, smart and well-planned economic development will help the country and its people. Illegal, poorly managed, non-transparent efforts will only aggravate conflicts and undermine park management and the wellbeing of local communities.

Virunga National Park is Africa's first National Park, a World Heritage Site, and is renowned for its extremely high biodiversity - including the world famous mountain gorillas, as well as important populations of elephant, chimpanzee and hippo.  However, there are now plans to explore and drill for oil throughout much of the park.

Company maps indicate SOCO, a UK-listed company, is planning to drill throughout the park. However, the initial Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) has been rejected by the Ministry, which in the statement issued today labeled it “premature and superficial.”

WWF calls on the Congolese government to guarantee there will be no oil exploration in the park and asks the companies to respect the law and abandon the harmful exploration plans.