'Ivory Queen' gets 15 years in jail for smuggling tusks

Chinese Ivory Queen Yang Fenlan

Chinese Ivory Queen Yang Fenlan

A Tanzanian court sentenced a prominent Chinese businesswoman dubbed the "Ivory Queen" to 15 years in prison on Tuesday for smuggling the tusks of more than 350 elephants to Asia - a big victory in the battle to stamp out poaching in Africa.

Ms Fenglan had been charged with leading one of Africa's biggest ivory smuggling rings, responsible for the slaughter of hundreds of elephants.

Two Tanzanian men were also found guilty for their role in the illegal commerce.

Yang Fenglan, 69, was convicted for trafficking 706 elephant tusks worth $2.5 million between 2000 and 2014. They have denied the accusations.

Tanzania, which some have called the ground zero of elephant poaching in the last decade, has been heavily criticized by conservation groups for its inability to stop the mass killing of its elephants.

She had been under investigation for more than a year when she was arrested in 2015, following a high-speed vehicle chase.

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Tanzania's Director of Public Prosecutions accused Yang of running a sophisticated supply chain between East Africa and China, using her ties to the Chinese and Tanzanian elite to move ivory across the world. A recent major census of the African elephant population found that it decreased by almost a third between 2007 and 2014. China, which banned the domestic trade in ivory previous year, has also mounted operations against the crime syndicates.

But local conservation groups say the election of Tanzanian president John Magufuli in 2015 boosted the fight against poaching.

But some think it didn't go far enough.

Prior to her arrest, the China Daily ran a profile of Yang, saying she started studying Swahili in college in the 1960s and later worked as a translator for Chinese experts working on the construction of the Tanzania-Zambia Railway. The previous year, a British pilot, Roger Gower, was killed by poachers who fired at his helicopter as it approached an elephant carcass in the Maswa Game Reserve.

In 1998, she opened a restaurant in Dar Es Salaam that became popular with both the Chinese expat community and wealthy locals.

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