DAR ES SALAAM (Reuters) - Tanzania has sentenced two Chinese men to 35 years each in jail for ivory smuggling, local media reported on Saturday, the latest conviction of Chinese nationals in a drive to stamp out poaching.
The Kisutu Resident Magistrate’s Court in the commercial capital Dar es Salaam sentenced Huang Gin, 53, and Xu Fujie, 25, after they failed to pay a fine of 54.35 billion shillings ($25 million) each, the state-run Daily News reported.
The two were arrested at a house in Dar es Salaam in 2013 with 706 pieces of elephant tusk and have been in custody since.
“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,” the privately-owned Citizen newspaper quoted magistrate Cyprian Mkeha as saying in his ruling.
The East African country relies heavily on revenues from safari tourism and new President John Magufuli has pledged to root out poaching as part of a wider war on corruption.
Poaching has risen in recent years across sub-Saharan Africa, where well-armed criminal gangs have killed elephants for tusks and rhinos for horns that are often shipped to Asia for use in ornaments and medicines.
In Tanzania, the elephant population shrank from 110,000 in 2009 to around 43,000 in 2014, according to a census released in June, with conservationists blaming “industrial-scale” poaching. There are also far fewer rhinos and they are endangered.
In October, Tanzania charged prominent Chinese businesswoman Yang Feng Glan, 66, dubbed the “Ivory Queen”, with running a network that smuggled out tusks from 350 elephants. She is under arrest and facing a separate trial.
A court in southern Tanzania sentenced four Chinese men to 20 years in jail each in December after they were convicted of smuggling rhino horns.
Tanzania denied a report in 2014 alleging that Chinese officials bought large amounts of illegal ivory during a visit by President Xi Jinping a year ago and smuggled it out in diplomatic bags aboard his plane.
Editing by George Obulutsa and David Clarke