Elephant and Rhino poaching surged to record levels in 2011 and is worth at least $US19 billion ($A18.08 billion) a year, according to a report commissioned by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
The report, launched on Wednesday, found criminals view it as high profit and low risk because governments don't give it a high enough priority or have an effective response.
Germany's U.N. Ambassador Peter Wittig, who hosted the launch, said strong demand and high prices for rhino horn and elephant ivory in particular have spurred poaching.
Ivory estimated to weigh more than 23 tons - representing 2500 elephants - was confiscated in 2011, Wittig said.
'And the illegal poaching of rhinos surged to a record high in 2011, with a final death toll of 448 rhinos in southern Africa alone,' he said.
The trend continued in 2012, with ivory prices up to $US1000 ($A948) a pound and rhino horns up to around $30,000 ($A28,436) per pound.
Wittig stressed that it isn't only rhinos and elephants that are at risk.
'There may be as few as 3200 wild tigers left in the world - and the increase in poaching makes extinction of tiger species a very real threat,' he said.
According to the report, although illicit wildlife trafficking has a well-documented link to other forms of illegal trafficking, the financing of rebel groups, corruption and money laundering, 'the issue is primarily seen as an environmental issue, which puts it low on governments' agendas'.
WWF called for governments to be held accountable for enforcing regulations on wildlife, including imposing sanctions where necessary, and a campaign to reduce demand for endangered species.
The report was produced for WWF by Dalberg Global Development Advisors, a strategic consulting firm that says it 'works to raise living standards in developing countries and address global issues such as climate change'.