The ivory queen finally sentenced to 15 years in prison for elephant trafficking

Chinese trafficker Yang Feng Glan, known as the “ivory queen”, was arrested in 2015. She’s been convicted for heading a criminal organisation responsible for international trafficking in ivory.

Over three years have passed since Yang Feng Glan, a 69-year-old Chinese woman, was arrested in Tanzania, accused of trafficking 860 elephant tusks worth 5.6 million dollars between 2000 and 2014. Known to be one of the main ivory traffickers operating in Africa, she nicknamed the “ivory queen”. Kisutu Court magistrate Huruma Shaidi found Yang guilty, sentencing her and two accomplices to fifteen years in prison, with two years extra if they don’t each pay an 11.8 million dollar fine, equal to twice the market value of the elephant tusks. All three defendants have appealed the decision.

Avorio illegale sequestrato a Hong Kong
For years, demand for ivory in Asia has fuelled the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of elephants by poachers © Lam Yik Fei/Getty Images

An important signal

Naturally, fines and prison sentences will never bring back the over 400 African elephants massacred for their precious tusks, a tragedy that further contributed to the decline in the species’ population, which, in just five years between 2009 and 2014, decreased by over 60 per cent in Tanzania. The sentence, however, demonstrates the country’s willingness to crack down on poaching and preserve biodiversity. The conviction “is hugely significant,” comments Tom Milliken, responsible for monitoring the illegal ivory trade for CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species). Amani Ngusaru, WWF country director, would have liked a more severe sentence: “It isn’t punishment enough for the atrocities she committed, by being responsible for the poaching of thousands of elephants in Tanzania”.

Elefante nella savana
Only 350,000 elephants are left in Africa, and if current trends continue they will be extinct within ten years © Chris Jackson, Getty Images

Condemnation from China

The Tanzanian court’s sentence stated that Yang Feng Glan “intentionally did organise, manage and finance a criminal racket by collecting, transporting or exporting and selling ivory trophies”. Geng Shuang, spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, endorsed the conviction, claiming that China has strict laws for the protection of endangered species. “We don’t shield the illegal activities of Chinese citizens, and support the relevant Tanzanian authority’s just investigation and trying of this case in accordance with the law”. The Asian nation, however, plays a central role in the decline of elephant populations, being the largest consumer of ivory in the world, regardless of the recent historic ban on its trade.

Un ranger del del Kenya Wildlife Service applica un collare Gps a un elefante addormentato
Elephant numbers in Tanzania dropped from 110,000 in 2009 to just over 43,000 in 2014, according to a 2015 census © Andrew Renneisen/Getty Images

A warning for poachers

The sentence handed to the ivory queen and her accomplices is nevertheless a signal the Tanzanian government is sending to poachers: stay away from elephants. While convictions for poaching aren’t necessarily infrequent, most of them involve those who are directly responsible for acts of poaching, and it’s rare that the people in charge are brought to justice. Condemning people at the helm of criminal organisations is therefore an essential step in the fight against ivory trafficking.

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