Anti-poaching investigators have caught what activists are calling the most important ivory traffickers ever arrested, a Chinese national who may have been responsible for millions in illegal ivory.
“The Queen of Ivory”so-called by the Elephant Action League was arrested by a specialized Task Force in Tanzania.
The Serious Crimes Investigation Unit (NTSCIU) arrested a number of high-level Chinese ivory traffickers led by a woman who 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 last several years.
The woman is a Chinese national named Yang Feng Glan, 66, and has been followed by the Task Force for over a year.
She recently disappeared from Tanzania, moving to Uganda, but returned one week ago, when the Task Force swiftly moved and arrested her.
After confessing to many of her crimes she has been taken to the high court of Dar es Salaam facing a maximum sentence of 20-30 years imprisonment.
Yang Feng Glan is originally from Beijing and is a wealthy woman, owning several properties and many cars. Back in the ’70s, in China, she was the first to graduate in Swahili, the language spoken in Eastern Africa, and she was sent to Tanzania in 1975 as a translator for Tazara, when China started to help build the railway.
According to the first information collected by the Task Force 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.
Feng Glan (also spelled Fenglan) is the Vice President and Secretary-General of Tanzania China-Africa Business Council, and owns the biggest Chinese restaurant at Dar es Salaam station, according to the Elephant Action League.
Tanzania has been the ground zero of elephant poaching in East Africa for the past several years, having lost 85,000 elephants between 2009 and 2014, according to a recent elephant census in the country.
“It’s the news that we all have been waiting for, for years,” commented Mr. Andrea Crosta, co-founder of the Elephant Action League and WildLeaks. “Finally, a high profile Chinese trafficker is in jail. Hopefully she can lead us to other major traffickers and corrupt government officials. We must put an end to the time of the untouchables if we want to save the elephant.”
A slaughter of industrial proportion such as this cannot have happened without the involvement of high profile, corrupt individuals and government officials at the two ports of Dar-es-Salaam and Zanzibar, and elsewhere in civil society.
“Everyone she has been dealing with will now become a target for law enforcement,” concludes Crosta.
Based on information collected during the course of this investigation, the league argue that there are several components of elephant poaching and ivory trafficking not fully understood or encompassed by the existing approaches to stopping the problem. They believe:
1) that ivory is ‘pushed’ out of Africa as much as it is ‘pulled’ by overseas consumers and traffickers,
2) that networks operating in East Africa are not necessarily run by ‘kingpins’, and
3) that urban-based networks are unlikely to respond to existing programs designed for community-based natural resource management.
Photo credit: Elephant Action League