With tough new laws to protect endangered animals, China sentenced five elephant poachers to die and 14 others to lengthy prison terms for killing 16 elephants, the official media said this week.

The sentences followed a three-month manhunt for the poachers through the remote jungles of southern China's Yunnan province, the People's Daily said.Police and forest rangers following a trail of elephant carcasses tracked the illegal hunters through Xishuangbana's Man and Biological Ring Nature Reserve, a wildlife sanctuary for some of China's most endangered species.

The heavily armed poachers surrendered only after a fierce gun battle with police, who afterward confiscated 11 ivory tusks, a tractor, 60,000 yuan ($7,058), various semiautomatic weapons and a cache of hunting rifles, the newspaper said.

A Xishuangbana court handed the death sentences to five men and gave 14 others jail terms ranging from eight years to life imprisonment.

Fewer than 200 endangered Asian elephants are thought to be left in China's wild.

Since 1986, Chinese courts have handled 37,000 wildlife cases, involving 65,000 people, with hundreds sentenced to death or life imprisonment.

But China only last July set out detailed penalties for the illegal hunting and marketing of endangered species.

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The new laws were largely the result of intense international pressure from environmental groups and the United States, which in June threatened Beijing with trade sanctions to force it to crack down on the trafficking of rhinoceros horns and tiger products.

The regulations were written in line with the U.N. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species and sealed loopholes in China's old laws that had allowed many suspected elephant, panda and tiger poachers to escape punishment.

The new statutes codified punishments for hunting endangered species, marketing protected wildlife or its products and foraging or selling hunting permits or permits for importing or exporting protected wildflife products.

But the demand for wildlife remains high, with Beijing's injunctions running counter to farmers' efforts to supplement the incomes they derive from traditional cropping.

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