A Chinese grandmother known as the Ivory Queen has been jailed for 15 years for her leading role in one of Africa’s biggest elephant tusk trafficking rings.
Yang Feng Glan, 69, was convicted yesterday of smuggling nearly two tonnes of ivory worth £1.7 million from Tanzania to China over 14 years. The case is one of the biggest illegal wildlife trade convictions secured in Africa, in which about 800 tusks were recovered.
When she was arrested in October 2015 Yang was secretary-general of Tanzania’s China-Africa business council, using her ties to the elite in both countries to move ivory across the world. She also owned a popular Chinese restaurant in the Tanzanian city of Dar es Salaam, where it is thought that illicit deals were struck.
Yang’s years of operation coincided with the country’s most devastating period of “industrial-scale poaching”. Tanzania’s elephant population plummeted by 60 per cent between 2009 and 2014, from 110,000 to little more than 43,000, according to a 2015 census.
Yang, from Beijing, was among China’s first students to graduate in Swahili and left for east Africa in 1975 to work as a translator during the Chinese-funded construction of a 1,100-mile railway between Tanzania and Zambia. She had been under surveillance for months before police arrested her in Dar es Salaam in September 2015.
Although Yang was found guilty of smuggling ivory between 2000 and 2014, it is thought that she may have been active in the illegal trade since the 1980s.
The Tanzanian government had been heavily criticised for failing to stop the illegal flow of ivory and rhino horn and was accused of turning a blind eye to cartels linked to the country’s large and influential Chinese community.
Since the election of President Magufuli in October 2015, who ordered a crackdown on the trade, some significant convictions have been secured. In March 2016 two Chinese men were sentenced to 35 years in jail for ivory smuggling, and in December 2015 four horn smugglers from China were jailed for 20 years each.
Yang was sentenced to 15 years at Kisutu resident magistrates’ court along with two Tanzanian men, Salivius Matembo and Manase Philemon. They had denied all charges. The three were ordered to either pay twice the market value of the elephant tusks or face another two years behind bars.
Prosecutors told the court in Dar es Salaam that Yang’s role was to “organise, manage and finance a criminal racket by collecting, transporting or exporting and selling government trophies” weighing a total of 1.9 tonnes.
Iain Douglas-Hamilton, the president and founder of Save the Elephants, welcomed the conviction as “huge”, adding: “It is encouraging to see the government taking a hard stance and it shows that if there is political will things can change.”
Poaching of ivory and rhino horn has risen sharply in recent years across sub-Saharan Africa, where armed gangs and traffickers make fortunes from selling to Asia. The materials are used in ornaments, jewellery and traditional remedies.