There are around half a million elephants left in Africa compared with 1.2 million in 1980 and 10 million in 1900.
Researchers believe that poverty and weak governance in African countries harboring elephants are the driving forces behind a spike in elephant poaching.
Elephants are killed for their tusks that are used to make prized ornaments.
Ivory trade is banned under the CITES, yet illegal ivory trade is estimated to be worth up to $10 billion a year.
The price of ivory on the black market shot up tenfold in the past decade to more than $2,000 per kilogram. On average, an adult elephant tusk can weigh 20 kg (44 pounds), according to experts.
In the past 13 years, the quantities of ivory traded have steadily shot up, according to Tom Milliken, an ivory trade expert with the wildlife monitoring agency TRAFFIC.
"2013 already represents a 20% increase over the previous peak year in 2011; we're hugely concerned," said Milliken.
In recent years ivory trafficking routes appear to be shifting from the traditional West and central African seaports to east Africa with Kenya and Tanzania as the exit points.