Chinese ‘ivory queen’ charged with smuggling 706 elephant tusks

Yang Feng Glan, kingpin between east African poaching syndicates and Chinese buyers, accused in Tanzania of smuggling ivory worth £1.62m
<p>Soaring Chinese demand for ivory-carved ornaments such as the one pictured makes poaching of African animals increasingly lucrative (Image by Philippe Lopez/AFP/Getty Images)</p>

Soaring Chinese demand for ivory-carved ornaments such as the one pictured makes poaching of African animals increasingly lucrative (Image by Philippe Lopez/AFP/Getty Images)

A Chinese woman dubbed the “ivory queen” for her alleged leadership of one of Africa’s biggest ivory smuggling rings has been captured and charged.

Yang Feng Glan is accused of smuggling 706 elephant tusks worth £1.62m from Tanzania to the far east. The Elephant Action League, a US-based campaign group, described her as “the most important ivory trafficker ever arrested in the country”.

The 66-year-old is said to have been a crucial link between east African poaching syndicates and buyers in China, where ivory is prized for ornamental use, for over 14 years. Tanzania’s national and transnational serious crimes investigation unit had been tracking Glan for more than a year, according to the Elephant Action League.

“She recently disappeared from Tanzania, moving to Uganda, but returned one week ago, when the task force swiftly moved and arrested her,” the league said. “After confessing to many of her crimes she has been taken to the high court of Dar es Salaam facing a maximum sentence of 20 to 30 years imprisonment.”

On Wednesday Glan appeared at the Kisutu magistrates court, along with Tanzanians Salvius Matembo and Manase Philemon, in the city of Dar es Salaam. She was charged with smuggling ivory between 2000 and 2014, although some reports suggested she may have been active since the 1980s. Glan did not enter a plea and was remanded in custody to await a further hearing.

Tanzania’s elephant population is one of Africa’s biggest but has been hit hard by the illegal ivory trade. In June, a government census revealed it had lost a “catastrophic” 60% of its elephants in five years. The data showed that between 2009 and 2014, the number dropped from 109,051 to 43,330.

See also: Is there a plan B for elephants? The next step in saving them is even harder

The government has been heavily criticised for its inability to stop the flow and for turning a blind eye to so-called kingpins linked to the large and influential Chinese community in the country. It is extremely unusual for an ivory kingpin, especially a Chinese national, to appear in court.

The Elephant Action League said Glan is originally from Beijing and owns several properties and many cars. She learned Swahili and moved to Tanzania in 1975 as a translator when China was building a railway.

“According to the first information collected by the task force, she has been trafficking ivory since at least 2006, working with the most high-ranking poachers in the country and in the region. She is connected to various companies abroad, all Chinese-owned, and circulates in the upper echelons of Chinese citizens living and working in Tanzania.”

She is the vice-president and secretary-general of the Tanzania China-Africa business council, it added, and owns the biggest Chinese restaurant at Dar es Salaam station.

Andrea Crosta, co-founder of the Elephant Action League and WildLeaks, said: “It’s the news that we have all been waiting for, for years. Finally, a high-profile Chinese trafficker is in jail. Hopefully, she can lead us to other major traffickers and corrupt government officials. We must put an end to the time of the untouchables if we want to save the elephants.

“Everyone she has been dealing with will now become a target for law enforcement,” Crosta added.

Yang’s court appearance came just a week after another Chinese woman, Li Ling Ling, was charged by the same court along with four Tanzanians with aiding the smuggling of ivory to Switzerland.

Last December Kenyan national Feisal Ali Mohammed, a suspected organised crime boss alleged to be a leading figure in the illegal ivory trade, was arrested by Interpol agents in Tanzania.

This article is republished from The Guardian’s website and can be accessed here