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'Ivory Queen' Arrested in Tanzania, Accused of Running Major Smuggling Ring

An alleged ivory magnate has been arrested and charged with smuggling tusks worth nearly $2.5 million in Tanzania, where rampant poaching in recent years has devastated the nation’s elephant population.

Yang Feng Glan, a 66-year-old Chinese national and restaurant owner reportedly known as the “Ivory Queen,” is accused of being a crucial link between poaching syndicates in East Africa and buyers in China and other nations. News of her Wednesday arrest was first reported by Elephant Action League.

"Tanzania has had the most serious elephant poaching of any country in recent years with few prosecutions, so this is an important case," said WildAid CEO Peter Knights. "But as well as arresting the smugglers, corrupt officials who enable this trade need to be prosecuted."

The Citizen, Tanzania's largest English-language newspaper, reports:

Ms. Yang is alleged to have operated in Tanzania for 14 years ... She has allegedly been financing people who have been killing elephants in protected areas, and she buys elephant tusks and supplies them to other people engaged in the illegal trade in ivory.

State Attorney Nassor Katuga alleged in court that the accused committed the offence[s] between January 1, 2000 and May 22, 2014.

Tanzania has lost 60% of its elephants in the past six years, mainly because of poaching for ivory. Significant profits from the illegal trade are made in China and other consumer nations, while Tanzanians are left to bear the cost.

In a recent WildAid/African Wildlife Foundation survey of over 2,000 Tanzanians from both rural and urban areas, nearly 80% respondents said that it would matter a great deal to them if elephants disappeared from Tanzania. And about three-fourths of Tanzanians interviewed said that they associated wildlife with their national identity and heritage. (Click here to download a full PDF of the survey report.)

Earler this year, WildAid and AWF launched a Swahili- and English-language campaign to bring awareness to the poaching crisis under the banner of "Poaching Steals from Us All," featuring Tanzanian celebrities including music artist Alikiba (below).