The Chinese businesswoman, now thought to be the most notorious ivory trafficker brought to task so far in the war against elephant poaching, is believed to be behind the trafficking of a huge quantity of ivory over the past several years.
DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania — In what is being lauded as a major crackdown on the illegal ivory trade, a Chinese woman, dubbed the “Queen of Ivory,” has been charged in a Tanzanian court with smuggling nearly 1.9 tons of ivory worth $2.7 million.
Businesswoman Yang Feng Clan, 66, is now thought to be the most notorious ivory trafficker brought to task so far in the war against elephant poaching. She is believed to be behind the trafficking of a huge quantity of ivory over the past several years, according to the conservation group, Elephant Action League.
“It’s the news that we all have been waiting for, for years”, said Andrea Crosta, co-founder of the Elephant Action League and WildLeaks. “Finally, a high-profile Chinese trafficker is in jail.
According to the Tanzanian government, the elephant population has plummeted from an estimated 109,051 in 2009 to 43,330 in 2014.
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Yang was charged Wednesday in Dar es Salaam with two Tanzanian men, Manase Philemon and Silvanus Matembo, who were allegedly connected with international poachers, traders and buyers.
The three suspects allegedly committed the crimes between Jan. 1, 2000 and May 22, 2014. Their case was adjourned to Monday. If found guilty on all charges, Yang could face 20 to 30 years imprisonment.
She recently disappeared from Tanzania, moving to Uganda, but returned one week ago, when a specialized wildlife-trafficking unit under Tanzania’s National and Transnational Serious Crimes Investigation Unit (NTSCIU) arrested her.
According to the charging papers, 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 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, said.
Katuga said Yang was involved in the smuggling and trading of 706 elephant tusks, weighing 1.9 tons 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 the 1980s working as an interpreter, and 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, according to the task force.
“Hopefully she can lead us to other major traffickers and corrupt government officials,” Crosta said. “We must put an end to the time of the untouchables if we want to save the elephant.”
In February, China imposed a one-year ban on ivory imports that took immediate effect amid criticism that its citizens’ huge appetite for ivory has fueled poaching that threatens the existence of African elephants.