Yang Feng Glan, a prominent Chinese businesswoman dubbed the “Ivory Queen” has been sentenced to 15 years in prison by a Tanzanian court for smuggling 860 elephant tusks weighing nearly two tonnes to Asia in a space of four years. Glan was arrested and charged in 2015 alongside two Tanzanian men, Salivius Francis Matembo and Manase Julius Philemon. It is estimated that the 860 pieces of ivory are worth $6 million, that is 13 billion Tanzanian shillings.
Kisutu Court Magistrate Huruma Shaidi also sentenced the three criminals to an additional two years in prison under Tanzania’s Wildlife Protection Act, with an option of paying a fine twice the market value of the tusks. In court documents, prosecutors said Glan intentionally organized, managed and financed a criminal racket by collecting, transporting or exporting and selling government trophies.
69-year-old Glan has lived in Tanzania since the 70s. According to CNN, she first came to Tanzania in 1975 as a translator for a Chinese company that was building a railroad linking the port of Dar es Salaam to Zambia. She later opened a popular Chinese restaurant in Dar es Salaam which she used as a front for her illegal dealings. She also became the secretary-general of the Tanzania-China Africa Business Council, a position she occupied until her arrest.
Glan was considered an ivory-trafficking mastermind, she was the bridge between African poachers and buyers in China, where elephant ivory and rhino horns fetch staggering prices. Hence the significance of her arrest and sentence. Conservationists say the sentence sends a strong message to traffickers that the government is taking wildlife poaching seriously. However, they are of the opinion that Glan is getting away lightly. “(It) is not punishment enough for the atrocities she committed, by being responsible for the poaching of thousands of elephants in Tanzania. She ran a network that killed thousands of elephants,” Amani Ngusaru, WWF country director, told Reuters.
In reaction to the news of her sentence, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told the press that China attaches great importance to the protection of endangered animals and that China has placed a ban on the import of ivory carvings and hunting trophies. “The Chinese government has zero tolerance for the illegal trade in endangered wild fauna and flora and their products,” he said. “The Chinese government asks its citizens overseas to abide by local laws and regulations and will never shield those who violated laws. We support the relevant departments of Tanzania in investigating and trying this case fairly in accordance with law.”
Glan’s arrest and imprisonment is a major breakthrough in the fight against poaching in Tanzania. It is also believed that this would lead to the discovery and arrest of other major traffickers and corrupt government officials. “The hope is that she will talk and lead the task force not only to her Chinese business partners, but also to local corrupt government officials who probably knew about it, and helped her out,” Andrea Crosta, Executive Director of the US-based Elephant Action League had said of Glan’s arrest.