A Chinese businesswoman labelled the “Ivory Queen” has been sentenced to 15 years in prison by a Tanzanian judge for smuggling the tusks of more than 350 elephants.
Yang Feng Glan, 69, had been charged in October 2015 along with two Tanzanian men with smuggling about 860 pieces of ivory worth 13bn shillings ($5.6m) over several years to Asia.
Kisutu Court Magistrate Huruma Shaidi on Tuesday handed the trio 15-year sentences following their convictions of leading an organised criminal gang. All three had denied the charges.
Shaidi also ordered them to either pay twice the market value of the elephant tusks or face another two years in prison.
In court documents, prosecutors said Yang “intentionally did organise, manage and finance a criminal racket by collecting, transporting or exporting and selling government trophies” weighing a total of 1,889 tonnes.
Conservationists welcomed Yang’s conviction, saying it was proof of the government’s seriousness in the fight against wildlife poaching, but some criticised the sentence.
“[It] is not punishment enough for the atrocities she committed, by being responsible for the poaching of thousands of elephants in Tanzania,” Amani Ngusaru, WWF country director, told Reuters news agency.
“She ran a network that killed thousands of elephants.”
Yang was escorted under tight security to the Ukonga prison in Dar es Salaam where she is expected to serve her jail time.
Police sources said Yang, 69, had lived in Tanzania since the 1970s and was secretary-general of the Tanzania China-Africa Business Council. A Swahili speaker, she owns a popular Chinese restaurant in Dar es Salaam.
In the last decade alone, Africa has lost about 110,000 elephants, with an estimated 415,000 elephants still living on the continent, according to the Worldwide Fund for Nature.
In Tanzania, the elephant population shrank from 110,000 in 2009 to little more than 43,000 in 2014, according to a 2015 census, with conservation groups blaming “industrial-scale” poaching.
Demand for ivory from Asian countries such as China, Vietnam and Thailand, where it is turned into jewellery and ornaments, has led to a surge in poaching across Africa.
In March 2016, Tanzania sentenced two Chinese men to 35 years each in jail for ivory smuggling, while in December 2015 another court sentenced four Chinese men to 20 years in jail each after they were convicted of smuggling rhino horns.