“Ivory Queen” Busted–Corruption and Tanzania’s ivory trade 落网的“象牙女王”

The recent arrest of the Chinese trafficker, nicked named  “Ivory Queen”  in Dar is a striking message among elephant conservationist and my fellow NGO colleagues. It is reported at least 706 elephant tusks worth about $2.5 million (RMB 19 million) was smuggled by her.

Yang Feng Glen, the 66 year- old Chinese business woman is thought to be the most notorious ivory trafficker arrested in Tanzania so far. She ran a sophisicated supply chain of ivory between East Africa and China for 14 years.  The insiders commented Tanzania authority finally caught a big fish!

It’s a very delicate case also because of the sophisticated connections between Yang and the officials working in the Chinese embassy in Dar. The ambassador of Tanzania commented on Yang’s arrest, “We welcome any enforcement effort from the Tanzanian authority, but in the meanwhile we want them to ensure suspect’s legal right. “

What I found interesting was that in 2014, Yang Feng Glen was invited as a railway expert for a wildlife conservation event held by the Chinese embassy in Dar. (see here:http://tz.chineseembassy.org/chn/dhwz/t1199994.htm) This close tie with the local officials really makes people wonder the real connections behind the scene.

Once convicted, Ms Yang will face 20-30 years in prison. Tanzania should really learn from its neighbour Kenay on elephants conservation despite the huge elephant population.

Stay Wild xxx

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Why we need to address illegal wildlife trade as a serious crime?

I believe many may have raised the questions, when it comes to conservation – why we need to concern about the wildlife thousands miles away? What impact will it bring if one species extinct? It is indeed not an easy task for the public to  visuialise this message and understand the serious impact it brings.

This fascinating video talks about how the wolves in Yellow Stone National Park changed the landscape of river, after they have been reintroduced to the area in 1995, 70 years after they had vanished from the area.This is a good example of how a single species can well maintain and restore the ecosystem, known to the ecologistis as a”trophic casede”.

When it comes to the illegal wildlife trade, the matter seems to be more delicate. We are not only talking about the ecological value of the species, so much more also need to be addressed, including the economic values, the political will, the perception of the public etc.

Illegal wildlife trade alone, excluding the timber and marine is worth $10-23 billion per year, ranking 3rd of the world illicit trade, right behind the trade in drugs and weapons. (Note: the figure here is controversial, some say it’s the 5th largest illicit trade in terms of the value.) It is such a lucrative business, and no doubt it attracts large criminal syndicates,knitting a global net of “transnational organised crime”. In Africa, ivory is also known as white gold fueling the civil war, paying off the arms for the rebels.It is very encouraging more countries have seen the massive impact and its caused effects. US and China, the top two ivory consumption both announced their commitment to putting an end to the ivory trade, though the actual actions are still in doubt.

Other species are not lucky as elephants, despite the slumping population in the wild, many still haven’t received the attention they deserve, for example tigers. As few as 3000 wild tigers, this majestic creatures are largly neglected in political dialogues. This month, President Xi Jingping will be visiting US and EU,which is a fantastic opportunity for the bilateral meeting in illegal wildlife trade as well as the domestic trade in tiger parts and derivatives.

Stay wild xxx

African elephants on the verge of extinction—blame China or Africa?

Recently, a Kenya conservationist Paula Kahumbu published an article on CNN, titled “We don’t buy panda products, so Chinese should keep hands off our elephants”, directly pointing at the biggest ivory consuming country.

She said due to the endless demand from China, the wild elephants are on the verge of extinction. Although numerous efforts were put in to saving wild elephants, unless the leading consumer of ivory- China- commits to put a halt on ivory trade, elephants will be doomed.  I believe her point probably is the mainstream view for elephant conservation every where except for China. However, what do Chinese actually think about it? To figure out this, let’s look at the official attitude from the China CITES committee and an online survey reflecting the general public’s opinion.

CHINA’s OFFCIAL ATTITUDE:

China’s high demand is not the only reason—responsibilities lie in every country

Meng Xianlin, deputy director of China’s Endangered Species Import and Export Management Office(濒管办常务副主席), the body of China’s CITES committee, who is also the representative at 2015 Kasane IWT Conference. He commented on African elephants conservation more than once in different occasions.  He stresses that China hopes that countries can improve coordination, do less finger pointing and make more joint efforts in fighting ivory smuggling globally and conserving elephant population.  The following are his comments made in 2013 and after Kasane Conference:

“We can’t simply attribute that to legal utilization and trade of ivory or to market demand. The fundamental solution to this problem must come from close cooperation among countries that hold elephant habitats, are transit points for shipments or are big consumers of ivory.”

“CITES came into force on 1st July 1975. The Pre-Convention wildlife product stockpiles held by western countries are still constantly being exported. In addition, 70‒80% of trophy hunting activities in Africa, including elephant hunting, which is legal in Zimbabwe, are undertaken by Europeans and Americans. The nature of trophy hunting activities should be re-evaluated, whether they are conservational or commercial. The prime responsibility lies in every country.”


Dr Meng’s remark acts as a whitewash, somehow blame other countries’ ivory policy rather than examine its own.  According to IFAW, China has replaced Japan, become the biggest ivory consuming country in the world, in which illegal amount is 6 times of legal one! China insisted it has the most stringent ivory policy, which can effectively regulate the market. However, the above data doesn’t agree at all. IFAW’s research showed it is a common practice that the licensed ivory shops usually secretly sell the illegal smuggled ivory with the shield of its legal license. The endless demand in China stimulates rampant poaching in another continent.

Poll: When the buying stops, the killing can too.

Tecent, the Chinese news portal started an online opinion poll on whether China should be responsible for the African elephants’ tragedy. Till now, more than 50,000 people voted, among which, 61% believed China is the one to blame, while 39% disagree.

Screen Shot 2015-04-13 at 15.33.21

Does China endangers African elephants?_ poll by Tecent

Those who disagree, argue that African countries fail to protect their own elephants. They should not blame their own faults to other countries. If poachers do not kill elephants for the pecuniary benefit, then no matter how big the demand is in China, there should be no ivory in markets to offer.  It is unfair to blame China if the sourcing countries cannot halt domestic poaching first. Other pro-trade parties interpret from an economic perspective, they believe it is the “zero poaching” policy itself to blame. The stringent ivory policy makes the ivory products “scarce”, which increases the trade cost also stimulates even larger demand.  BTW, I think this “economic illustration” is completely BS. I will blog about economic analysis of illegal wildlife trade in the future. Please Stay tuned: D

The poll result brings some pleasant comfort: majority of the general public believed in “when the buying stops, the killing can too.” China saved pandas from extinction, recovered Tibenten Antelope to 30,000 by 2014. China is capable and responsible to save African elephants. Reducing domestic demand and stronger law enforcement will be the next step.

Stay wild xxx