KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of Congo, March 18 (UPI) -- Oil exploration activities in Africa's Virunga National Park, home of some of the world's last endangered mountain gorillas, have been halted, officials said.
Jose E.B. Endundo, Democratic Republic of Congo minister for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Tourism, issued a statement clarifying the government's position on the intentions of a British oil company, Soco International, to undertake oil exploration in Virunga National Park, the Environment News Service reported Thursday.
His ministry has taken "specific steps, which have led to the suspension of the given oil exploration activities," Endundo said.
"We have rejected the recommendations of an environmental impact assessment conducted by the oil company, Soco, which we consider premature, superficial and which does not conform to the standards which we would expect."
Virunga National Park, which lies in eastern DR Congo and covers 3,000 square miles, is inhabited by approximately 200 of the world's last 780 mountain gorillas as well as a small population of eastern lowland gorillas.
The United Nations cultural organization Unesco has repeatedly warned against oil exploration in the area, the BBC reported.
Conservationists applauded Endundo's action.
"The Environment Ministry did the right thing, and what we hope to see next is a firm declaration guaranteeing there would be no exploration in this iconic and fragile park now or in the future," Natalia Reiter, a spokeswoman for World Wildlife Fund International, said.