Several threats to individual personnel and the Virunga National Park seem to continue unchecked following the attempts to assassinate the Chief Park Warden Emmanuel de Merode this very year in the month of April. As he was driving back to the office from a meeting in Goma with the reported prosecutors, Merode was shot many times, and fortunately he survived and has been able to resume with his duties in the park. It was alleged that he presented a report on the involvement of an oil-company recruiting within the park during that meeting. However, the office of the prosecutor later denied having held this meeting at all. Progressively other reports have been revealed of increased intimidation of staff as well as threats against them plus the lives of their families.
SOCO, which is the British oil-exploration company in the middle of the conservation union, unsurprisingly released a statement right after that shooting, forswearing and also disassociating themselves from that scenario and disapproving all kinds of corruption however stories emerging on ground reveal a very different truth for those at the forefront of protecting the integrity plus character of the park. TOTAL, a French oil icon, already released a public announcement a year ago that they wouldn’t venture into the Virunga National Park which is habitat to about 200 of the surviving mountain gorillas within the larger Virunga area that includes Uganda plus Rwanda. Brimming with biodiversity, that extends way beyond the mountain gorillas, half of the area of this park is part of Block 5 that was awarded to SOCO for oil drilling by the regime of Kinshasa. This was carried out in complete neglect of the fact that this park is a recognized UNESCO World Heritage site that forbids any financial exploration as well as exploitation of any of its resources above and also underground, unless approved by UNESCO under extremely rigorous guidelines as well as continuous supervision.
Underneath the disguise that scientific research is allowed under the rules of UNESCO, SOCO carried out oil prospecting, even though it must have been clear that that clause was intended for genuine scientific research on plant life and animals and not for financial research for example finding prospective oil sources. It’s those exploration groups together with their security information, that are purported to have continuous run-ins with the rangers as well as the local communities, using intimidation plus threats and apparently pick out park rangers recognized to have rigorous ethical standards, which means those who do away with a bribe and don’t have any difficulty in arresting the suspects.
The threats have been expressed through mobile phone from unknown numbers, and goes in conjunction with written messages plus verbal threats, all obviously warning individuals to avoid the interfering with the oil prospecting. An increasing general opinion is that SOCO is going to find it more challenging to disassociate itself from this kind of outright arm-twisting and robust arming of rangers plus the locals, since they are the supreme beneficiaries if the threats work, which at the moment haven’t worked.