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DAR ES SALAAM: Tuesday’s jailing of the ‘ivory queen’ means two of Tanzania’s foremost ivory kingpins are now behind bars, signaling a major turning point in efforts to combat poaching and protect Tanzania’s endangered elephants.
The global community heartily received the news of the jailing of Chinese woman Yang Feng Glan, 69, whose notoriety in the business earned her the ‘queen of ivory’ tag.
Yang Feng Glan who will serve 15 years in jail joins Tanzanian Boniface Matthew Maliango, nicknamed ‘The Devil’, who has been behind bars since March 2017 when he was sentenced to 12 years for ivory trafficking.
The two arguably controlled the multi-billion illicit trade in Tanzania and were responsible for corruption networks that facilitated the smuggling of ivory to South Africa, Europe and the US. They ran the business with ruthless abandon and evaded the long arm of the law for decades.
Their jailing was, therefore, seen as a significant blow to the networks blamed for killing more than 50,000 elephants in Tanzania alone over the last ten years. Such was their reputation that US actor Leonardo DiCaprio depicted them in the Netflix movie ‘The Ivory Game.’
China, which took most of the blame for fueling the global demand for ivory has hailed the jailing of Yang Feng Glan who at one time was its quasi-diplomat in Tanzania.
Yang Fenglan was convicted of smuggling about 700 elephant tusks and her case was viewed as a major test of Africa-wide efforts to hold key trafficking figures accountable for the mass killings of elephants to supply ivory to illegal markets.
China has cracked down on smuggling in recent years and a total ban on all trade in ivory products came into effect last year.
Conservationists say the jail sentences that have so far been served to the ivory kingpins, must be communicated well to serve as a deterrent.
“Having a judicial system that can handle cases related to ivory trafficking is another way of ensuring that we curtail this network of traffickers,” he said.
Glan came to Tanzania as a Swahili-Chinese translator in the 1970s when China began to build the Tanzania Zambia Railway (Tazara). But she is believed to have begun trafficking in ivory as far back as 2006.
The Chinese woman’s story in Tanzania is no ordinary tale. She speaks fluent Kiswahili. She is a graduate of China’s Beijing Foreign Studies University.
Ms Yang was charged at the Kisutu court in the year 2015 after she was nabbed in a dramatic car chase in Dar es Salaam.