DAR ES SALAAM (Reuters) - A Tanzanian court has charged four Chinese nationals for smuggling rhino horns, a senior police official said on Wednesday, pointing to further gains in the fight against the illegal trade.
Last month, Tanzania, which relies heavily on revenues from safari tourism, charged a prominent Chinese businesswoman, Yang Feng Glan, 66, dubbed the 'Ivory Queen', with running a network that smuggled tusks from more than 350 elephants.
The East African country's elephant population shrank from 110,000 in 2009 to a little over 43,000 in 2014, according to a census released in June, with conservation groups blaming "industrial-scale" poaching. There are far fewer rhinos and they are endangered.
The four Chinese nationals, who were allegedly found in possession of 11 rhino horns, were arraigned in court in the southern Tanzanian town of Mbeya on Tuesday.
"The Chinese nationals were denied bail by the resident magistrate's court and are being held in custody while the hearing of the case continues," Mbeya regional police chief Ahmed Msangi told Reuters by telephone.
"They were charged with economic sabotage, which is a very serious criminal offense in Tanzania."
Rhino horn has been used for centuries in Chinese medicine, where it was ground into powder to treat a range of maladies including rheumatism, gout and even possession by devils.
The Elephant Action League, a U.S.-based conservation group, hailed the prosecution of the Chinese nationals, saying it marked another high profile arrest of poaching suspects in Tanzania.
“We must keep up the pressure and support those willing to confront this type of crime as the bad guys have gotten away with this for far too long,” Elephant Action League founder Andrea Crosta said in a statement.
A key Tanzanian poaching suspect known as “Shetani” or “The Devil” was arrested last month after a manhunt that lasted for more than a year.
Tanzania's new president, John Magufuli, has vowed to crack down on poaching as part of a wider war against corruption.
(Reporting by Fumbuka Ng'wanakilala; Editing by Edmund Blair and Catherine Evans)