A record number of ivory seizures have been made in 2011r, according to wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC.
The group said the elephant tusks recovered represent at least 2,500 dead animals.
Most cases involve the illegal ivory being smuggled from Africa to Asia, with many wanting it for ornaments or medicinal purposes.
“A conservative estimate of the weight of ivory seized in the 13 largest seizures in 2011 puts the figure at more than 23 tonnes,” TRAFFIC said in a statement.
Zimbabwe-based Tom Milliken, who manages TRAFFIC’s Elephant Trade Information System, said it was the worst year for large seizures he had seen in the over two decades he has been running the database.
He said the poaching and illegal trade were consequences of China’s investment drive into Africa to secure the mineral and energy resources it needs to fuel its economic growth.
“We’ve reached a point in Africa’s history where there are more Asian nationals on the continent than ever before. They have contacts with the end use market and now they are at the source in Africa,” he said. “This is all adding up to an unprecedented assault on elephants and other wildlife.”
Milliken said some of the ivory that was making its way to illicit markets may be coming from African government stockpiles from previous seizures but the trade numbers and data from other wildlife monitors pointed to a rise in elephant killings.