DODOMA, Tanzania – A local Tanzanian court denied bail to a Chinese woman suspect dubbed the “Queen of Ivory” and two Tanzanian suspects Thursday, who were being held on charges of ivory trafficking.
A specialized wildlife trafficking unit under Tanzania’s National and Transnational Serious Crimes Investigation Unit arrested the suspects Thursday.
Yong Feng Glan, the 66-year-old Chinese woman suspect, was accused of being behind the trafficking of huge quantities of ivory from Tanzania and other East African countries to international and local black markets.
Paschal Shelutete, communications and press unit department head of the Tanzania National Parks, hailed the arrests and said that it was the most successful operation against pouching that he had ever seen.
“She is believed to be the most notorious ivory trafficker brought to task so far in the war against elephant poaching. This is the news that we all have been waiting for, for years,” Shelutete said.
Shelutete’s department is also credited with coining the term “Queen of Ivory” for the Chinese suspect.
The other two suspects in the case, Tanzanians Manase Philemon and Silvanus Matembo were allegedly connected with international poachers, traders and buyers.
The three suspects were taken to a court in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania’s business capital, Thursday where they were charged with smuggling elephant tusks worth $2.7 million.
According to the charge sheet presented before Kisutu Resident Magistrate court, the “Queen of Ivory” was alleged to be operating in Tanzania for 14 years as the main link between internal and international poachers, trader and buyers.
“She (The Queen of Ivory), has been financing people who have been killing elephants in protected areas, and she buys elephant tusks and supplies them to other people engaged in the illegal trade,” Tanzanian’s State Attorney, Nassoro Katuga, claimed.
The State Attorney said that Yang was involved in the smuggling and trading of 706 elephant tusks, weighing 1,800 kilograms from about 350 slain elephants.
According to information collected by the Task Force, Yang is said to be from Beijing and is believed to be a wealthy woman, owning at least several houses, a farm, a restaurant, and several cars.
She first came to Tanzania in 1980s working as an interpreter and later allegedly became involved in trafficking ivory since at least 2006 in cahoots with high-profile poachers in the country and the region.
If found guilty on all charges, Yang could face between 20 and 30 years imprisonment.
Nehemiah Nkoko, one of the lawyers for the suspects, called for their release. “My clients should be released on bail pending determination of the case against them,” Nkoko said.
Tanzania, one of the African countries with large numbers of elephants, has witnessed a rapid decrease in its elephant population, from over 150,000 in 2004 to less than 55,000 in 2014, according to last year’s elephant census.