JOHANNESBURG -

Large seizures of elephant tusks make this year the worst on record since ivory sales were banned in 1989, with recent estimates suggesting that as many as 3,000 elephants were killed by poachers, experts said yesterday.

"2011 has truly been a horrible year for elephants," said Tom Milliken, elephant and rhino expert for the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC.

In one case earlier this month, Malaysian authorities seized hundreds of African elephant tusks worth $1.3 million that were being shipped to Cambodia. The ivory was hidden in containers of Kenyan handicrafts.

"In 23 years of compiling ivory seizure data . . . this is the worst year ever for large ivory seizures," said Milliken.

Most cases involve ivory being smuggled from Africa into Asia, where growing wealth has fed the desire for ivory ornaments and for rhino horn, which is used in traditional medicine, though scientists have proved that it has no medicinal value.

TRAFFIC said that Asian crime syndicates are increasingly involved in poaching and the illegal ivory trade across Africa, a trend that coincides with growing Asian investment on the continent.