Two Chinese nationals have been sentenced to jail in Tanzania after being caught with over 700 pieces of ivory, and are now facing prison terms of 35 years each. The two were labeled as a “real threat to the elephant population,” with the heavy punishment coming after the two convicted men failed to pay an eye-watering fine of $25 million per person. Coming at a time when Tanzania appears to be tightening its laws against the illegal wildlife trade, this is thought to be the highest punishment ever imposed for wildlife trafficking in the East African country.
The men, named as Huang Gin, 53, and Xu Fujie, 25, were first arrested in the port city of Dar es Salaam in 2013 after living in the country for three years. At their house police found hundreds of pieces of ivory weighing in at around 1.8 tonnes (1.98 tons). They were in the country under the cover of exporting garlic, but using this as a front for smuggling the ivory to eastern markets, mainly China. It is claimed that during the period they were in operation, they were responsible for almost a quarter of all elephants poached during that time.
“Considering the evidence adduced in court and the huge loss that the nation has suffered for the killing of 226 elephants, it is obvious the accused are a real threat to the elephant population,” magistrate Cyprian Mkeha is quoted in The Citizen as saying. It is because of this massive scale of slaughter in which the men were involved that the court was asked to show no mercy to the defendants. In fact, the court reportedly had to take a break when the sentence was first handed out as one of the defendants, Xu, fainted in the dock due to the shock of its severity.
Initially, the men denied the charges, claiming that they were not involved in the smuggling. After hearing evidence from nine witnesses, the magistrate then sentenced each defendant to pay fines of 10 times the market value of the ivory they were caught with. As the two men were unable to raise the sufficient cash, they have now been sentenced to 70 years jail time between them. Part of this sentence is also for charges against them for trying to bribe officials to the tune of $14,000 when they were initially arrested in 2013.
The trial comes in a flurry of other sentences handed down to illegal wildlife traffickers. Last year, four Chinese men were sent to jail for 20 years each after been caught trying to smuggle rhino horns out of the country, and 2015 also saw the arrest of a Chinese woman in her 60s known as the “ivory queen,” who will be charged later this year for trying to export $2.5 million worth of ivory.
Main image: IFAW/Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0