The World Wildlife Foundation reported on Monday that two of its employees had received threats on their lives for their vocal opposition to oil exploration in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Virunga National Park.
Unidentified callers told the WWF “we want his head” in reference to a staff member working in Goma, DRC who had made statements about the impacts of oil drilling. Another caller referenced an ambush on the park’s Chief Warden Emmanuel de Merode, saying that while they had missed killing the warden, they would not miss their chance to kill the WWF’s employee.
De Merode was shot multiple times April 17 while driving alone in a park vehicle, but survived. Threatening calls, notes and text messages to environmental activists and civil servants have been on the rise ever since.
The attacks and threats follow the beginning of testing operations by UK based oil company Soco to determine the feasibility of drilling in the park. Virunga is the oldest national park in Africa and home to significant populations of endangered and threatened species, including a quarter of the world’s remaining mountain gorilla population. The DRC signed a production sharing agreement with Soco for 15% of oil profits in 2006.
The WWF publicly condemns all testing and exploratory activities in the protected World Heritage Site.
Virunga is no stranger to danger. In 1994, militiamen fleeing from the Rwandan genocide took refuge in the park and still control areas of it to this day. It is also frequently targeted by poachers and anti-environmentalist forces. The BBC reports that over 130 park rangers have been killed since 1996.