By Emma Reynolds
Large-scale tusk smuggling has reached a record high this year, with at least 2,500 dead elephants used for ivory.
Organised criminals - particularly Asian syndicates - are increasingly involved in the illegal trade, according to environmental agency Traffic.
Experts believe it has been the worst year for the endangered animals since sales of ivory were banned in 1989.
Most cases involve ivory being smuggled from Africa into Asia, where growing wealth has fed a desire for ivory ornaments and rhino horn, which is used in traditional medicine.
Traffic's elephant and rhino expert Tom Milliken said: 'As most large-scale ivory seizures fail to result in any arrests, I fear the criminals are winning.
'The escalation in ivory trade and elephant and rhino killing is being driven by the Asian syndicates that are now firmly enmeshed within African societies.'
It is not clear how many of the animals were killed this year in Africa, but the authorities are alarmed by the early figures.
A record 13 large hauls were seized this year - consisting of an estimated 23,676 kilograms of the desirable product.
It is a dramatic rise from 2010, when just six major seizures took place, of tusks weighing just under 10,000kg.
And the worryingly high number does not even include the ivory that is being smuggled over borders secretly.
On December 21, Malaysian authorities confiscated hundreds of African elephant tusks, worth $1.3million, which were being shipped to Cambodia.
The ivory was hidden in containers of handicrafts from Kenya's Mombasa port. Most of the large seizures have originated from Kenyan or Tanzanian ports, according to Washington-based Traffic. More....