Congo-Kinshasa: DR Congo Will Open Virunga, Salonga Parks to Oil Companies

Mountain gorillas feed inside Virunga National Park.

Kinshasa has defended its right to declassify sections of the parks over the protests of environmental activists. The two UNESCO World Heritage sites are home to countless rare plants and animals.

The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo said late on Friday that it was opening parts of its famous Virunga and Salonga National Parks to oil drilling. The parks are home to several endangered and rare species,such as gorillas, bonobos and forest elephants.

Earlier attempts by oil companies to drill in the parks were met with fierce resistant from environmental and animal rights activists, pointing out that oil operations would put wildlife at risk as well as releasing massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

But Kinshasa said it alone had the right to permit drilling in its parks, adding that it would be mindful of the animals, plant life and UNESCO World Heritage sights in the parks.

The government said that about 1,720 square km (664 square miles), or 21 percent, of Virunga would be declassified.

Virunga is home to half of the world's mountain gorillas. Salonga, which is over 33,000 square kilometers (12,740 square miles), is the world's second-largest rain forest and home to many extraordinary species such as hippopotamus, pangolins, the African golden cat and forest buffalo. It has been on UNESCO's list of World Heritage in Danger since 1999.

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