The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) scored a key heritage victory on Monday as Unesco removed one of its nature reserves from a list of threatened sites, the UN agency said.
The World Heritage Committee is currently in its annual session, during which members assess the condition and management of more than 1,100 existing sites, as well as accept nominations from countries for new World Heritage Sites.
The diverse array of locations, varying from buildings and whole cities to mountains and deserts, are being examined, split between cultural, natural and mixed sites. A total of 39 nominations proposed in 2020 and 2021 are being considered this year.
Unesco praised DRC's conservation efforts and the government's commitment to banning prospecting for oil in Salonga, the vast central African country's largest public park.
The World Heritage Committee cited "improvements towards its conservation state" in its decision, according to a statement on Monday.
"The Committee welcomed the clarification provided by the national authorities that the oil concessions overlapping with the property are null and void and that these blocs will be excluded from future auctioning," the statement read. "It also observed that the management of the park has been greatly improved, notably with regard to the strengthening of anti-poaching measures.
"Regular monitoring of the wild fauna shows that the bonobo [ape] populations remain stable within the territory despite past pressure, and that the forest elephant population is starting to come back," the Committee said.
The Congolese environment ministry welcomed the move.
It would be "an opportunity to rethink the management of the peatland with a view to quantifying its capacity to absorb carbon" emissions, it told AFP.
Salonga is Africa's largest protected rainforest and home to 40 per cent of the Earth's bonobo apes, along with several other endangered species. Created in 1970 by the country's former president, Mobutu Sese Seko, it was inscribed in 1984 on the World Heritage List and in 1999 on the List of World Heritage in Danger.
Situated at the heart of the central basin of the Congo river, the park is very isolated and accessible only by water. It is the habitat of many endemic endangered species, such as the bonobo, the Congo peacock, the forest elephant and the African slender-snouted or "false" crocodile.
"Salonga National Park represents one of the very rare existing biotopes absolutely intact in central Africa," Unesco says on its website. "It comprises vast marshland areas and practically inaccessible gallery forests, which have never been explored and may still be considered as practically virgin."
The World Wide Fund for Nature celebrated the news on Monday.
"Congrats to the Democratic Republic of Congo! Salonga National Park is removed from the World Heritage in Danger list after progress in stopping oil concessions & rampant poaching threatening local wildlife, people," the WWF tweeted.
– Additional reporting by AFP