A Chinese woman accused of heading one of Africa’s biggest ivory smuggling rings has been arrested and charged.
Dubbed the “Ivory Queen”, Yang Feng Glan is alleged to have smuggled 706 elephant tusks from Tanzania to the Far East.
Glan, 66, is said to have been a crucial link between East African poaching gangs and Chinese buyers.
She is also believed to have financed poaching gangs, allowing them to buy weapons and vehicles and to pay bribes to cover their activities.
At a court appearance in the Tanzanian capital Dar Es Salaam, Glan was charged with smuggling ivory worth $2.7 million between the years 2000 and 2014 although investigators believe she may have been active since the 1980s.
The other two suspects in the case, Tanzanians Manase Philemon and Silvanus Matembo are said to have been her key lieutenants and were allegedly connected with international poachers, traders and buyers.
Appearing before magistrates yesterday alongside the two other suspects, Glan did not enter a plea and was remanded in custody to await a further hearing.
Tanzania has long been the epicentre of the illegal ivory trade, recent figures show elephant numbers there have dropped to just 43,330 from 110,000 in 2009 and 350,000 at independence in 1961.
Demand for the material in China has been blamed and Tanzanian authorities have long been accused of turning a blind eye to ivory kingpins, especially those linked to the large and influential Chinese community there. Recently the government signalled a change of approach, promising to crack down on the trade. However, it is still extremely rare for an ivory kingpin, especially a Chinese national, to appear in court.
The arrests followed a year-long investigation by a secretive but highly-effective specialized wildlife trafficking unit under Tanzania’s National and Transnational Serious Crimes Investigation Unit (NTSCIU). Based in Dar es Salaam and supported by anti-poaching NGO Pams Foundation, their members are hand-picked from police and military special units.
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 the 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.
Photo: Yang Feng Glan leaves the Kisutu Resident Magistrate’s Court yesterday after she was charged with smuggling ivory worth £1.62 million. Credit: NTSCIU