(FILES) A picture taken on October 14, 2013 shows an elephant in Mikumi National Park, which borders the Selous Game Reserve, Tanzania. A third of all illegal ivory seized in Asia comes from Tanzania, and the safari tourism destination has lost over half of its elephants in the last five years, according to the Tanzanian Elephant Protection Society (TEPS). There are 60,000 left but, if poaching continues unabated, Tanzania may see all of its elephants eradicated by the year 2020. The Tanzanian government recently announced plans to train 1,000 new park rangers and buy four helicopters, with much of the money coming from the Howard Buffet Foundation. AFP PHOTO/Daniel Hayduk (Photo credit should read Daniel Hayduk/AFP/Getty Images)
Tanzanian elephant population in 'catastrophic decline'
04:12 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Yang Feng Glan, 66, has been charged with smuggling at least 706 elephant tusks

She was denied bail at an appearance before Tanzania's High Court on Thursday

She ran a sophisticated ivory supply chain between East Africa and China for about 10 years, Tanzanian authorities say

CNN  — 

A Chinese woman nicknamed the “Queen of Ivory” has been arrested in Tanzania and charged with smuggling at least 706 elephant tusks that authorities say are worth about $2.5 million.

Yang Feng Glan, 66, is thought to be the most notorious ivory trafficker arrested in East Africa in the last decade. She ran a sophisticated supply chain between East Africa and China for about 10 years, Tanzanian authorities say. Many of her suppliers were also arrested.

“Across Africa, they keep arresting small fish here and there,” said Andrea Costa, a spokesman for the Elephant Action League, a nonprofit group that fights crime against wildlife. “They have finally caught a big fish.”

Yang Feng Glan

Glan is thought to have come to Tanzania as a Swahili-Chinese translator in 1975, when China began to build a railway in the East African nation, according to Elephant Action League. Tanzanian law enforcement says she began trafficking ivory as far back as 2006.

Described as “extremely wealthy and extremely connected” in China and Tanzania, Glan owned businesses, including a large restaurant, in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s largest city, and she was even serving as the secretary general of the Tanzania-China Africa Business Council.

A source close to the investigation told CNN that Glan was under surveillance when, on September 28, an elite police task force swooped in on her in Dar es Salaam. After a brief car chase, she was apprehended. She appeared before Tanzania’s High Court on Thursday and was denied bail.

This counts as a major success for Tanzania, which is referred to by some as ground zero of elephant poaching in Africa. The East African nation has lost almost two-thirds of its elephants in the last decade, the Environmental Investigation Agency, a UK-based nongovernmental organization, said in a report last year.

The arrest was carried out through a new specialized wildlife trafficking unit, part of a larger task force on serious crimes known as the Tanzanian National and Transnational Serious Crimes Investigation Unit. Sources say the unit has arrested at least one wildlife trafficker per day since its inception.

Government spokesman Assah Mwambene says the government, through the elite unit, has “stepped up Tanzania’s war on poaching.”

Many say the issue is with demand, and China has long been cast as the source of the problem as the largest ivory importer in the world.

“The elephant species is in the hands of the Chinese President,” Costa said. “Once the President decides to close down the legal market of ivory and elephant in China, the poaching of elephants will end.”

The Chinese government has recently made strides to reduce the ivory trade in the country.

In September, Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Barack Obama made history by announcing that the two countries would protect elephants from the poaching crisis with nearly complete bans on ivory imports and exports, promising “significant and timely steps to halt the domestic commercial trade of ivory.”