Yang Fenglan, 69, stood accused of having smuggled almost 2 tons of ivory out of Africa between 2000 and 2014.
She strode into court defiantly yet that did not sway the judge. He handed down a 15-year sentence to the Chinese businesswoman for trafficking in the tusks of Africa’s beleaguered elephants.
Dubbed the “Ivory Queen,” Yang Fenglan, 69, stood accused of having smuggled almost 2 tons of ivory out of Africa, comprising some 800 tusks that belonged to some 400 elephants, between 2000 and 2014. The woman, a long-term resident of Tanzania who spoke Swahili, ran a Chinese restaurants and owned several businesses in Dar es Salaam. She was at one point vice president of the country’s China-Africa Business Council.
Yet she had also been smuggling ivory back to China. The businesswoman, who had been under investigation for a year, was arrested in 2015 after a high-speed car chase. Two of her Tanzanian accomplices were also sentenced to 15 years in prison. “The prosecution proved the case against the accused beyond a reasonable doubt,” Judge Huruma Shaidi noted apropos of his verdict.
The illicit trade in ivory, run by syndicates such as the one overseen by the Chinese businesswoman, has caused the number of African elephants to drop precipitously. Despite stepped-up protection measures in Africa, global wildlife smuggling syndicates continue to target wild elephants on the continent for their tusks. Most of the illicit ivory is destined for China, which decided to enact a ban on the sale of ivory and ivory products early last year but has yet to stamp out the thriving illegal trade in animal parts across the country.
The international trade in illegally trafficked ivory is worth billions of dollars annually and entails the slaughter of an estimated 30,000 elephants each year. Over the past decade some 140,000 elephants have been killed for their tusks and other body parts in Africa, driving the species precariously close to being critically endangered. While there were 490,000 elephants on the continent a decade ago, there are now only around 350,000.
In Tanzania itself local herds have been targeted by poachers with wanton impunity. A decade ago wild elephants in the Africa nation numbered around 110,000, but within five years their numbers plummeted to around 43,000, according to a government census.
In an encouraging sign, China’s government has welcomed the jailing of Yang. “We do not shield the illegal activities of Chinese citizens and support the relevant Tanzanian authority’s just investigation of, and trying of, this case in accordance with the law,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told the press. He added that Beijing was “ready to work with the international community to protect wildlife and curb international trade.”
China is the largest market of illegal trafficked ivory because carvings and other products made from elephant tusks remain highly prized as decorative objects, good luck charms and status symbols.