Award-winning wildlife ranger in DRC fears for his life

2017-04-25 20:30
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Kinshasa – An award-winning wildlife ranger in the Democratic Republic of Congo says that he fears for his life after running a campaign to stop oil exploration in the Virunga National Park and protect the habitat of the rare mountain gorillas that live there, a report says.

According to the SABC, Rodrigue Katembo, one of six winners of the Goldman Environmental Prize, has secretly filmed bribes being offered to allow a British oil company Soco to drill in Virunga in the central African country.

Two months after the film, titled Virunga, premiered at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival, public anger led to Soco stopping further exploration at the Unesco World Heritage site and refuge for the endangered mountain gorillas.

Katembo was quoted as saying that he feared for his life because Soco had money.

Oil companies

"We still fear Soco because they have never written to say they will stop their illegal activities in Virunga," Katembo was quoted as saying.

The British-owned company has, however, vehemently denied any links to attacks on its opponents.

The company's spokesperson said that it had decided not to renew their contract with the DRC government.

The DRC has been plagued by conflict for decades and numerous armed groups operate in the east, where mining and oil companies want to access untapped resources.

The award-winning Katembo was reportedly a child soldier at the age of 14, but managed to escape and went on to earn a master’s degree in 2003 and became a ranger.

According to CNN, Katembo was awarded this year’s prestigious Goldman Environment Award on Monday. 

He says that he has received calls telling him: "You have betrayed the country ... You deserve to die."

He added that local chiefs had attempted to bribe him in order "to help them get oil exploration going in the park", and that "they proposed $5 000, just to do that."

Seismic testing

Katembo said that he was not going to stop until those wanting to destroy his country’s protected wildlife "are held responsible for their actions:.

The government granted Soco an exploration licence in 2010, although DRC law prohibits any extractive industries within its national parks.

In 2014, environmental campaigners WWF issued a statement condemning the British firm activities at the Unesco protected site. 

At the time, WWF said that Soco was planning to start seismic testing in the oldest African park.

"WWF condemns, in the strongest terms, Soco's unacceptable operations in Virunga National Park," Lasse Gustavsson, head of conservation at WWF, was quoted as saying as the time. 

But the company has denied the  allegations. 

Read more on:    wwf  |  drc  |  central africa

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