TOTAL drops exploration plans for the Virunga National Park

REPRIEVE FOR THE VIRUNGA PARK AS FRENCH OIL GIANT TOTAL DROPS OIL EXPLORATION

In a breaking news story has information come to light that the French oil company TOTAL has today, through its CEO and Chairman Christophe de Margerie, made a firm commitment to respect the integrity of the national park and drop all plans to explore for oil inside the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

De Margerie made the pledge at the annual general meeting of the shareholders of the company, after the French oil giant came under sustained pressure from global conservation groups and faced additional targeted action from consumer groups siding with the conservation fraternity.

The Virunga National Park is Africa’s oldest UNESCO World Heritage Site and when plans became public nearly two years ago, that the regime in Kinshasa, already with a soiled reputation on wildlife conservation after abrogating their duty to protect the last Northern White Rhino population at the Garanga National Park a few years ago – the population has since been wiped out by poachers – was considering to permit oil companies to prospect inside the park, a storm of outrage rose around the globe to rescind exploration licenses already granted under a shroud of secrecy.

Conservation groups were swift to congratulate TOTAL for their commitment and immediately turned their attention to British exploration company SOCO International, urging them to equally halt all activities of prospecting and exploring, while at the same time renewing a campaign to expose the Kinshasa regime for their shady deals which were in total conflict of the country’s various international commitments to protect biodiversity hotspots like the Virunga mountains.

To make matters worse for this park, it has been repeatedly at the very core of intense fighting between government troops, their allied militias and liberation forces seeking to create a more stable and peaceful environment for the hundreds of thousands of area residents which have been subjected to slave labour, mass rape and regular looting by regime forces, often as a result of their ethnicity. Rangers posts have in the past been shelled and destroyed and several rangers and wardens, deployed to protect the remaining mountain gorilla population in the Virunga mountains, were killed in attacks on their outposts or in cross fire between the warring parties.

In an email communication late yesterday evening from a source close to the Greater Virunga Transboundary Cooperation, which is based in Kigali / Rwanda and brings the three conservation bodies ICCN, RDB T&C and UWA together, the following sentiments were expressed: ‘This is great news. I am happy to see that the campaign worked and TOTAL has shelved plans to explore and drill for oil in the park. But the truth is that Kinshasa should make the same pledge and remove all the oil blocks they have mapped out inside the park. Any licenses they issued should be withdrawn and activities be restricted to beyond the park buffer zones. Even there, global watchdogs must be involved to monitor compliance with EIA’s, if at all any have been conducted so far. The Virunga park is critical to the survival of the mountain gorillas and in general a bio diversity hot spot. The gorillas migrate often across the national borders and unless all three gorilla range countries cooperate and pursue the same conservation policies, the future survival of these animals could be at serious risk. Thank you for the publicity you helped to generate and please keep the struggle going. This can only be the start and a lot more work must be done’.

Watch this space for breaking and regular conservation news from the wider Eastern African region to stay up to date with the latest trends and developments.

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