June 30, 2018 / 8:37 AM / 5 months ago

Congo says it will open two national parks up to oil drilling

Mountain gorillas from the Kabirizi family sit in Virunga National Park, just north of the eastern Congolese city of Goma, August 19, 2010. REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly/File Photo

KINSHASA, 29 (Reuters) - Democratic Republic of Congo’s government said on Friday that it has decided to open up parts of Virunga and Salonga National Parks, home to mountain gorillas, bonobos and other rare species, to oil drilling.

Earlier proposals to allow oil exploration in the parks met fierce resistance from environmental activists, who say drilling would place wildlife at risk and release huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, causing global warming.

The government has defended its right to authorise drilling anywhere in the country and said it is mindful of protecting animals and plants in the two UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

The cabinet said in a statement that it had approved the establishment of interministerial commissions charged with preparing plans to declassify sections of the parks, including 1,720 sq km, or 21.5 percent, of eastern Congo’s Virunga.

Virunga sits on the forest-cloaked volcanoes of central Africa and is home to over half the global population of mountain gorillas. British company Soco International performed seismic testing there but let its license lapse in 2015.

Salonga covers 33,350 sq km of the Congo Basin, the world’s second-largest rainforest, and contains bonobos, forest elephants, dwarf chimpanzees and Congo peacocks.

Reporting By Amedee Mwarabu; Writing by Aaron Ross; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle

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