A woman deemed the “Queen of Ivory” is one of the most notorious ivory traffickers in modern-day history and she’s behind bars today. Now that she’s been taken out of commission due to her arrest, will this put a dent in the horrendous mutilation and death of elephants? Yang Feng Glan is the head of a smuggling ring that pays these poachers for the ivory and then ships them to China, but will taking the 66-year-old woman out of the equation just clear the way for a new leader in ivory sales?
Yang’s organization was sophisticated and evolved into a multi-million dollar business of illegal ivory trade over the last decade. She used her popular restaurant in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and her position as Tanzania’s secretary general of the China-Africa Business Council when running this well-organized “massive underground ivory trade,” according the Christian Science Monitor on October 11. It’s not as if someone can just set-up shop doing this overnight, she had a stream-lined illegal business with many stops along the smuggling route and more than likely she had many pockets to grease.
MSN News reports, “The story of Yang, who will now be tried in a Tanzania court, might change the way people think about the global ivory trade. If she is convicted, it will turn out that one of Africa’s wildlife-trafficking kingpins was also one of its most prominent Chinese interlocutors.” A major use for ivory in China is in medicine. The ivory is crushed and used in many holistic remedies, with no proven benefit. Up until now, the role that China businesses have played in poaching has been “hazy,” reports MSN.
Will her arrest put a dent in the ivory poaching and smuggling? While Yang represents one of many smuggling rings, yes, her arrest will put a dent in the maiming and killing of elephants for their ivory. Advocates of anti-poaching report that the countries importing the largest amounts of ivory are responsible for the slaughter of 30,000 African elephants a year. China is by far the biggest importer of the illegal ivory and this is where Yang was shipping the illegal tusks.
While Tanzania has put more muscle behind catching these poachers and bringing down these rings, China has started to respond to the ivory smuggling on their end. Yang’s arrest is an excellent start in the fight against illegal ivory trade, but law enforcement has a long way to go before elephants can safely run in the wild.
Yang moved from China to Tanzania in 1975 and built her smuggling ring from the ground up. Yang’s alleged smuggling activities have contributed to the loss of up to 70 percent of Tanzania’s elephant population in the last decade alone.
She will face charges on the smuggling of more than 706 elephant tusks and her arrest is the result of a year-long investigation by the new wildlife trafficking unit. Last week law enforcement surrounded Yang’s house ready to move in and arrest the woman, but she managed to get away and led them on a car chase.
She was eventually arrested as were many of the people that supplied her with the ivory, better known as the poachers. She is looking at 20 to 30 years behind bars, which is the maximum sentence. The ivory she smuggled was done via food shipments to China and at the same time she was the official business liaison between Tanzania and China in her role as secretary general. This was a major operation that isn’t likely to be duplicated overnight.
According to CNN News, “The arrest was carried out through a new specialized wildlife trafficking unit, part of a larger task force on serious crimes known as the Tanzanian National and Transnational Serious Crimes Investigation Unit. Sources say the unit has arrested at least one wildlife trafficker per day since its inception.” So maybe the question isn’t if Yang’s arrest will put a dent in the ivory trade, but if this new unit, which has shown success so far, will eventually wipe out the illegal ivory trade from the top down?