Chinese 'Ivory Queen' accused of leading one of Africa's largest-ever smuggling rings

By Paul Tyson: ITV News

A Chinese woman accused of heading one of Africa's biggest ivory smuggling rings has been arrested and charged.

Dubbed the "Ivory Queen", Yang Feng Glan is alleged to have smuggled 706 elephant tusks from Tanzania to the Far East.

Glan, 66, is said to have been a crucial link between East African poaching gangs and Chinese buyers.

She is also believed to have financed poaching gangs, allowing them to buy weapons and vehicles and to pay bribes to cover their activities.

At a court appearance in the Tanzanian capital Dar Es Salaam, Glan was charged with smuggling ivory worth £1.62 million between the years 2000 and 2014 although investigators believe she may have been active since the 1980s.

Appearing before magistrates yesterday alongside two Tanzanian men said to have been her key lieutenants, Glan did not enter a plea and was remanded in custody to await a further hearing.

Tanzania has long been the epicentre of the illegal ivory trade, recent figures show elephant numbers there have dropped to just 43,330 from 110,000 in 2009 and 350,000 at independence in 1961.

Ivory is shown from one of many raids by Tanzania's Anti-Poaching Task Force. Credit: ITV News

Demand for the material in China has been blamed and Tanzanian authorities have long been accused of turning a blind eye to ivory kingpins, especially those linked to the large and influential Chinese community there.

Recently the government signalled a change of approach, promising to crack down on the trade. However, it is still extremely rare for an ivory kingpin, especially a Chinese national, to appear in court.

The arrests followed a year-long investigation by Tanzania’s secretive but highly-effective Anti-Poaching Task Force. Based in Dar es Salaam and supported by anti-poaching NGO Pams Foundation, their members are hand-picked from police and military special units.

The task force has taken a high-profile role in combating poaching gangs in recent months. Last year ITV News was given rare access to their operations.