Arrest of alleged 'Ivory Queen' hailed a breakthrough in anti-poaching battle

The courtroom is tiny, hot and crowded. It’s standing-room-only.

The accused stands silently, looking towards the window so that it is impossible to see her face or read any emotion.

She is a 66-year-old Chinese grandmother; by appearance an unlikely candidate for criminal mastermind.

But here, in Tanzania’s commercial capital, Dar Es Salaam, Yang Feng Glan has become better known as the infamous 'Ivory Queen'.

It’s alleged that she ruled a network that linked local poachers to powerful Chinese buyers.

Her arrest is being heralded as a major breakthrough for the country’s anti-poaching task force in its battle against a brutal trade that has seen Tanzania’s population of elephants decline at a catastrophic rate.

"It’s a big victory for the task force, a big victory for the elephants," claims Malcolm Ryen, a local conservationist.

Conservationists said the arrest is a 'big victory for the elephants'. Credit: ITV News

When it comes to law enforcement, usually it is the foot soldiers that get arrested.

It is exceedingly rare to get what is claimed to be a senior figure, let alone a Chinese citizen, into court.

Mrs Yang first came Tanzania in the 1970s, as a translator when China was building a railway here

She stayed and developed high level contacts. At the time of her arrest, she was vice–president the Tanzania China-Africa Business Council.

But does that business also include the lucrative and illicit trade in ivory, so popular in far east?

Yang Feng Glan's daughter told ITV News' John Ray she has never seen her mother with any ivory. Credit: ITV News

We spoke to her daughter, Du Fei. Hers is a modest apartment in the city. It hardly seems the home of family said to have grown rich on 'white gold'.

Du insists her mother is innocent.

"I have lived with her, slept in the same place, I have never seen her with any ivory," she told me.

She says she cannot understand why the charges have been levelled.

It is claimed the demand for ivory is linked to powerful Chinese buyers. Credit: Reuters

No one is yet linking Mrs Yang with allegations – vehemently denied by China – that demand for ivory in Tanzania has rocketed to coincide with visits by high-ranking Chinese delegations.

"That would be impossible," says Du Fei.

Yet the investigation continues. If convicted, the 'Ivory Queen', dethroned, faces 20 to 30 years in jail.