The Africa Elephant Summit involving 20 nations has opened in Botswana with renewed warnings that the giant creature's numbers are falling dramatically. Poachers supply ivory illegally to Asia, particularly China.
The conference in Botswana's resort of Kasane was told on Monday that hunting of the African elephant by poachers was unsustainable, with some 100,000 killed over the past four years.
Current levels across the continent are put at about 420,000. US-based researcher Dune Ives said at the current rate "this species could be extinct in our lifetime ... within one of two decades."
The area of worst decline was East Africa, whose elephant number has dropped to 100,000.
The summit opening coincided with news from Kinshasa that poachers had killed 30 elephants over the past two weeks in Garamba National Park in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Botswana environment ministry spokesman Elias Magosi said the aim of the summit - a follow-up to a conference in 2013 - was to secure commitments "at the highest level to effectively protect the elephants."
Magosi said ivory syndicates took advantage of conflicts, social unrest and poor governance to supply the illegal ivory market.
The wildlife trade monitoring group TRAFFIC said ivory typically flowed from Kenya and Tanzania to transit countries such as Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines, before arriving for sale in China and Thailand.
Last Friday, Ethiopian authorities sought to discourage poaching by using fire in Addis Ababa to destroy six tones of tusks and ivory trinkets confiscated over the past 20 years.
In the 1970s, Ethiopia had more than 15,000 elephants. Currently, it has only 1,900.
Kenya and Gabon have similarly destroyed stockpiles in recent years.
Last month, China imposed a one-year ban on ivory imports, while Thailand is under pressure to follow suit from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species or CITES.
Ivory is reportedly sold at $100 per kilogram (92 euros) from poachers and sold for $2,100 in China.
Link between poverty and poaching
CITES specialist Julian Blanc said one way to tackled poaching was to highlight the need to reduce human poverty as a "significant" way to lower elephant poaching.
"We have monitored a direct correlation between human infant mortality (a measure of poverty) at district level and levels of poaching," he said.
"In places where there is a high level of infant mortality and poverty, we monitored the highest level of elephant poaching, " Blanc said.
In South Africa and Botswana the elephant has survived better than further north due to poachers concentrating on killing rhinos.
Protecting the rhino will also be high on the agenda at the Botswana summit agenda.
ipj/jr (AFP, dpa, AP)