NAIROBI (AFP, Reuters) - The slaughter of Africa's elephants and the illegal trade in ivory in China are "out of control", conservationists said Tuesday, with wild elephants potentially disappearing within a generation.
Soaring quantities of ivory are being sold in rapidly growing numbers of shops in China, with over 100,000 elephants killed from 2010 to 2102, the joint report read from the campaign groups Save the Elephants and The Aspinall Foundation.
"Skyrocketing demand for ivory in China - the wholesale price of raw elephant tusks has tripled in just four years since 2010 - have sparked a booming trade in smuggled ivory that is driving the unsustainable killing of elephants in Africa," the report read, released in the Kenyan capital.
Poaching has risen sharply across Africa in recent years, fuelled by rising demand in Asia for ivory and rhino horn, coveted as a traditional medicine and a status symbol.
The report's authorities visited scores of shops and factories in China - the world's main ivory manufacturing centre - comparing quantities on sale and costs.
"Every metric on the ivory trade has exploded upwards in recent years. The prices of raw and worked ivory in China, number of licensed carving factories, retail outlets both illegal and legal, items on sale, all have shot up," it read.
"Meanwhile the weight of ivory seized and number of elephants being killed in Africa have also increased."
The number of legal ivory stores in China shot up from 31 in 2004 to 145 last year, while the number of ivory carving factories increased from nine to 37 over the same period.
Ivory carving and sale is legal in China but is meant to be tightly controlled. Collection cards are needed for identification of legally sold ivory.
But the report warns that illegal sale of ivory in unlicenced stores is growing just as fast.
Researchers said prices in China had risen for raw ivory from US$750 (S$938) per kilo in 2010 to US$2,100 (S$2,625 euros) in 2014.
The Chinese government has in the past said it is committed to helping end poaching in Africa, where about 22,000 elephants were illegally killed in 2012, according to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
CITES banned trade in elephant ivory in 1989 but later allowed a limited amount to be sold.
Organised crime syndicates and rebel militia increasingly use poaching to fund insurgencies, reaping the benefits of multi-billion-dollar demand.
"China faces enormous challenges in law enforcement to control the ivory trade, as the number of rich business people in the country with interest in buying ivory continues to increase," the report added.
"Ever-growing numbers of Chinese contract workers are going to Africa and buying increasing quantities of illegal ivory to smuggle."