Poachers killed more than 33,600 African elephants each year between 2010 and 2012 making their losses unsustainable, a new study has shown.
Over that period alone an estimated 6.8% of the continent's elephant population was wiped out by the illegal ivory trade, scientists said.
Writing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences researchers said that the very existence of the African elephant was threatened.
They wrote: "Our analysis demonstrates the heavy toll illegal ivory trade is taking on African elephants, and suggests current off-take exceeds the intrinsic growth capacity of the species."
They added: "These results provide the most comprehensive assessment of illegal ivory harvest to date and confirm that current ivory consumption is not sustainable."