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SOURCE: IFLScience and Reuters

DATE: July 2, 2018

SNIP: Virunga National Park and Salonga National Park – the home of mountain gorillas, chimpanzees, African forest elephants, and other rare species – could soon be welcoming some new visitors: oil companies.

The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has confirmed that parts of the Virunga and Salonga National Parks, two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, will be opened up for oil exploration and drilling, Reuters reports.

Virunga National Park is the size of a small country, over 7,800 square kilometers (3,000 square miles) in size, and encompasses rich forests, savannas, swamps, lake shores, lava plains, active volcanoes, and glaciated mountains. It is regularly cited as one of the most ecologically diverse places on Earth. It’s home to a quarter of the world’s critically endangered mountain gorillas, along with two other species of great ape, the eastern lowland Grauer’s gorilla, and chimpanzees. It also holds a range of other rare species, such as the Okapi, African Buffalo, Central African lions, and the Congo peacock.

Salonga National Park, Africa’s largest, and the world’s second-largest, tropical rainforest reserve is home to an equally dazzling array of environmental features and animals, most notably the bonobo and the African slender-snouted crocodile.

The last time oil companies threatened to exploit this part of the Congo Basin, especially in Virunga, it was met with massive opposition from environmental activists.

However, the DRC government has consistently defended its right to authorize drilling for oil and gas anywhere in the country and maintained that they are aware of protecting their country’s biodiversity.