Seized elephant tusks are displayed by the Thai Customs Department during a press conference at Customs Suvarnabhumi airport in…
FILE - Seized ivory, transported from Malawi to Thailand, is displayed during a press conference at Customs Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok, March 7, 2017.

A court in Malawi on Monday sentenced nine members of a gang of wildlife traffickers to a total of more than 56 years in prison for dealing in endangered species body parts in Africa. 

The Lin-Zhang gang — named for the husband and wife leaders — was one of the continent’s most notorious wildlife trafficking syndicates and had been operating out of Malawi for 10 years, said conservation groups.

“Fighting crime on this scale demands sophistication, collaboration, courage and tenacity,” said Mary Rice, head of the Environmental Investigative Agency. “Malawi should be immensely proud, and other African countries currently battling the scourge of illegal wildlife trade would do well to follow this example of global leadership.”  

Rice pointed at what she called Malawi’s “political will and determination” for the successful prosecution. 

Police arrested members of the Lin-Zhang syndicate during raids in May 2019. The ringleader, Yunhua Lin, was arrested in August after a fugitive hunt. He is scheduled to appear in court Wednesday. 

FILE - A white-bellied pangolin which was rescued from local animal traffickers is seen at the Uganda Wildlife Authority office in Kampala, Uganda, April 9, 2020.

The gang members were convicted of trafficking in rhinoceros horn, ivory, hippopotamus teeth, and the keratin scales from armadillo-type mammals called pangolins, one of the most trafficked mammals in Asia and, increasingly, Africa, according to the World Wildlife Fund. Pangolin meat is considered a delicacy, and pangolin scales are used in traditional medicine and folk remedies. 

On Monday, Yunhua Lin’s wife, Quinhua Zhang, was sentenced to 11 years in prison. Two other Chinese nationals were handed seven-year jail sentences for hoarding rhino horn, and four years for firearms possession. The sentences are to be served consecutively.  

Others sentenced Monday received a total of 18 months to five years.  

Malawi’s head of national parks and wildlife, Brighton Kumchedwa, called the prosecution of the Lin-Zhang gang a victory for Malawi and all wildlife.  

“It is critical that wildlife criminals can expect to feel the full weight of the law, and the message needs to be loud and clear: Malawi is no longer a playground for the likes of the Lin-Zhang syndicate that exploit our natural heritage, damage our economy, incite corruption and pose a risk to national security.”