Sir David Attenborough has added his voice to the campaign demanding U.K. company Soco International stop exploring for oil in Virunga National Park. Established in 1925, Virunga is Africa’s oldest national park and home to some of the world’s last mountain gorillas. The iconic filmmaker and naturalist has raised urgent concerns over various threats to the park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the subject of a powerful documentary, to be released on Netflix this Friday 7 November, 2014.



Attenborough is the latest high profile figure to speak out in defense of the park, joining Desmond Tutu and Sir Richard Branson in commenting. Virunga has more species of birds and mammals than any other African national park, and the park and its inhabitants are under threat from armed conflict, poaching and resource exploration. Soco’s oil plans in the world heritage site have been opposed by many local community groups, UNESCO and western governments. Located in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the park has been listed as a World Heritage Site since 1979.

Related: Pluspetrol Plans to Explore for Natural Gas in Most Biodiverse Protected Area on Earth

Speaking out about oil exploration in the area, Attenborough noted: “Areas like Virunga were established as World Heritage Sites because they are sites of great scientific and natural value not only to the nations in which they are situated but to the whole world. The admirable principle is that these areas are to be protected not only for now, but for the future … I am deeply concerned by the matters raised by the film Virunga and the Global Witness report Drillers in the Mist. It would be extremely worrying if the great, rich and varied park of Virunga were to be exploited for oil. Not only would it threaten a park that is home to a vast range of wildlife including about a third of the world’s endangered mountain gorillas, but it would also send a worrying signal for the future of other world heritage sites. If the treasured Virunga park cannot be protected from drilling, can anywhere else?”

Sir David also pointed out that Soco is a British company that trades on the London Stock Exchange. He called for “a serious response” from Soco to allegations of corruption and intimidation raised around its exploration process in the park, and stated that the allegations “merit investigation by law enforcement authorities in the UK, the US and other relevant jurisdictions.” The company has previously insisted that it “does not condone, partake in or tolerate corrupt or illegal activity whatsoever.”

Via Global Witness

Photos by LuAnne Cadd and Cai Tjeenk Willink via Wikimedia Commons