Ivory Queen Busted, but Tanzania’s Elephants Remain in Danger

Yang Feng Lan, the 'Queen of Ivory,' is a Chinese national who has been arrested in Tanzania for her high level participation in the illegal ivory trade. (Image: Elephant Action League)
Yang Feng Lan, the 'Queen of Ivory,' is a Chinese national who has been arrested in Tanzania for her high level participation in the illegal ivory trade. (Image: Elephant Action League)

Between 2009 and 2014, Tanzania lost 60 percent of its elephant population to poaching, says a report from WildAid, a leading conservation organization.

That’s 65,721 elephants killed for their ivory, which is mostly illegally shipped to China. The nonprofit group Elephant Action League estimates the numbers of slaughtered elephants to be higher.

Either way, the news that a senior figure in Tanzania’s illegal ivory trade was arrested last week is good news.

Dubbed the “Ivory Queen,” Yang Feng Lan, a Chinese national, was taken into custody by a specialized Tanzanian wildlife trafficking unit.

“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. 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,” she said.

“Everyone she has been dealing with will now become a target for law enforcement,” she added.

See this video below for more details:

The wildlife trafficking unit also arrested a number of high-level Chinese ivory traffickers who were led by the 66-year-old Yang, who’s believed to be the most high-profile ivory trafficker arrested thus far in the war against elephant poaching.

It is understood that Yang, a wealthy woman who has lived in Tanzania since the 1970s, has been involved in the underground ivory trade since 2006. She was also the Vice President and Secretary-General of the Tanzania China-Africa Business Council.

Yang now faces a maximum sentence of 20 to 30 years in prison.

As pointed out by the Elephant Action League, the scale of the killing of Tanzania’s elephants would not be possible without the involvement of high profile, corrupt individuals and government officials.

Last year, a report by the Environmental Investigation Agency revealed how Chinese-led criminal enterprises, along with corrupt Tanzanian officials, were responsible for trafficking large amounts of ivory into China.

There have also been other arrests against ivory smugglers in neighboring countries. In May, Mozambique arrested two Chinese nationals, and seized a record haul of 340 elephant tusks and 65 rhino horns reported the Mail & Guardian Africa.

Meanwhile, a suspected ringleader of an ivory smuggling gang, Kenyan national Feisal Mohammed Ali, is to be tried in Kenya. Ali was arrested last year in Tanzania and has been on an Interpol list of the nine most wanted suspects linked to environmental crimes, said the Mail & Guardian Africa.

Given the scale of the illegal ivory trade, it is unsure how much of an affect these arrests will have on the killing of elephants. A study published last year by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the United States of America said that poachers killed 100,000 African elephants in just three years.

See below Al Jazeera’s 101 East investigating the shadowy trade in illegal ivory:

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