Tanzania arrest of ‘Queen of Ivory’ has China, world’s biggest consumer of ivory products, turning on her

Arrest of Chinese citizen linked to multi-million dollar illegal trade in 'white gold' sparks big debate in social networks in Asian country.

A CHINESE businesswoman reportedly behind the trafficking of nearly 1.9 tonnes of ivory has been stridently criticised in her home country after she was charged in a court in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

The woman, Yang Fenglan, 66, is believed to be behind the dealings which were worth millions of US dollars—conservative figures put it at $2.5 million—between 2000 and 2014.

The news of Yang, dubbed Queen of ivory, and who faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted, sparked wide discussions on Chinese social media networks in a country where the government is tacitly accused of encouraging domestic ivory trade. 

China, the world’s largest consumer of ivory, is blamed for fanning poaching, with Africa the biggest source of illegal ivory, but in a further gain for campaigners, the sentiment about her arrest back home was widely in support of Yang’s arrest. 

Users said they were angry about her behaviour, and backed the Tanzanian court, demanding the application of international justice.

The original news report on news app Tencent News received 20,670 comments in just four days.

“No trade, no murder. Yang’s behaviour is even worse than directly killing those innocent elephants. Murdering animals for human’s own interest is too cruel. Sooner or later the never-ending desire inside humans will destroy all mankind,” commented a web user with the handle Huixin zilin22.

Another user, self-identifying as Wang Yihui said that newly-rich Chinese are to blame for the illegal dealings. “Ivory artware at their homes looks good, but elephants behind the decorations are bleeding.”

A survey has found that while eight in 10 Chinese support a total ban in ivory, over half of respondents would buy ivory in a country where it is seen as a status symbol. 

Wan Junjie, another user, called for the same punishment on ivory owners as that on drug owners.

Irony of trade
On Sina Weibo, the largest microblogging platform in China, a user under the handle South of First Sun highlighted the irony in the illegal trade of ivory. “Nothing is more ironic than carving ivories into Bodhisattvas, which symbolise kindness and empathy in Buddhism.”

According to media reports, Yang was the secretary-general of the Tanzania China-Africa Business Council and owned land in the country. She also owns a restaurant in Dar es Salaam, which prosecutors say she used as a front for the trade, which has seen Tanzania’s elephant population plunge 40%—some say two-thirds—in just 10 years.

Previously a Kiswahili interpreter, Yang went to Tanzania in the 1970s and worked for the historic construction of the Tanzania Zambia Railway. Her daughter is reportedly married to a local.

After the scandal was exposed, another Weibo user, Interpreter Renhua, said that “she is a humiliation to Chinese interpreters. She has no respect for the Chinese people who dedicated their lives to the construction of modern Africa. She has no respect for laws.”

In May, Mozambican police seized a record haul of 340 elephant tusks and 65 rhino horns and arrested two Chinese nationals in the southern African country.

Neighbouring Kenya is trying the suspected ringleader of an ivory smuggling gang, Kenyan national Feisal Mohammed Ali, who figured on an Interpol list of the nine most wanted suspects linked to crimes against the environment. He was arrested in Tanzania last year.

Earlier this year, the US and China agreed to a nearly complete ban on ivory.

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