Beijing said it supported the 15-year jail sentence handed down to a notorious trafficker of elephant tusks by a Tanzanian court on Tuesday, and refused to extend any help to the convicted Chinese national.
China is “ready to work with the international community to protect wildlife and curb international trade”, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a press briefing on Wednesday.
“We do not shield the illegal activities of Chinese citizens and support the relevant Tanzanian authority’s just investigation of, and trying of, this case in accordance with the law,” he said.Dubbed the “Ivory Queen”, Chinese businesswoman Yang Fenglan, 69, was convicted in Dar es Salaam of smuggling almost 2 tonnes of tusks from more than 350 elephants to Asia from Tanzania.
The total value of the 706 trafficked ivory tusks was estimated at US$2.5 million, Reuters reported. Yang, who had been living in Tanzania since 1975, was the head of a one of Africa’s biggest underground ivory trafficking rings.
She had originally been arrested on ivory smuggling charges in 2015, when she was vice-president of Tanzania’s China-Africa Business Council.
“The prosecution proved the case against the accused beyond a reasonable doubt,” Judge Huruma Shaidi was quoted as saying in local media.
Many of the tusks ended up in China, where there has traditionally been a thriving black market in illegal animal products from endangered species, such as elephant ivory and pangolin scales.
Despite being the world’s biggest ivory market, China outlawed the sale of ivory and ivory products at the start of 2018 in an attempt to clamp down on the lucrative industry. But ivory products such as carvings, jewellery and ornaments have been traditionally prized as a status symbol in the country.
Meanwhile, Tanzania’s native elephant population has been decimated, going from 110,000 in 2009 to just over 43,000 in 2014, according to a government census released last June. Conservation groups say that rampant poaching is to blame.
The explicit condemnation of Yang’s actions from Chinese authorities is a sign of Beijing’s increased public efforts to clamp down on the illegal trade on the global stage.
Yang is currently being held at a maximum security prison in Dar es Salaam until her bail hearing on October 12, according to Reuters.
Conservation group Elephant Action League welcomed the jail term.
“Finally, a high-profile Chinese trafficker is in jail. Hopefully she can lead us to other major traffickers and corrupt government officials. We must put an end to the time of the untouchables if we want to save the elephant,” the group’s founder, Andrea Crosta, was quoted as saying.
Yang, who was convicted alongside two Tanzanian men, has already launched an appeal, the court said.