The world's primary conservation body, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), on January 7 called on British listed companies, SOCO and Dominion, to abandon their oil exploration plans in the Virunga National Park located in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The WWF warned that these actions will undermine decades of work aimed at saving the park, which receives vital funding from the European Union.

“The U.K.-listed companies' plans will be costly for the area's precious and fragile biodiversity, including, chimpanzees, hippos, elephants and other rare species, as well as the local population who benefit from tourism and sustainable fishing inside the national park,” it said in a statement issued in Nairobi. Africa's oldest national park (1925) and its first World Heritage Site (1979), Virunga is home to many diverse species and an impressive diversity of landscape and habitats. Covering 7,800 sq.km (3,000 sq.miles), it is also home to about 200, almost a quarter, of the earth's last remaining mountain gorillas. Some 30,000 local fishermen fish sustainably on the park's Lake Edward, a Ramsar protected site. Company maps seen by the international media indicate that SOCO intends to drill through much of the park in areas with some of the highest savannah biomass in the world.

Armed groups are moving out of the park, and efforts put into conservation work are starting to pay off.