Elephant and rhino poaching surged to record levels last year and an increase in illegal tiger hunting makes the species' extinction a real near-term threat, according to a report commissioned by the World Wildlife Fund.
The report found that illicit trade in wildlife is worth at least 19 billion US dollars (£11.7 billion) a year with organised criminals viewing it as high profit and low risk because governments do not give it a high priority and have not implemented an effective response.
Germany's UN ambassador Peter Wittig, who hosted the launch, said strong demand and high prices for rhino horn and elephant ivory in particular have spurred poaching, which is an organised crime.
Mr Witting said 2011 was the highest year on record for elephant poaching, adding: "Ivory estimated to weigh more than 23 metric tons - a figure that represents 2,500 elephants - was confiscated in 2011, 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 this trend continued this year, with ivory prices up to 1,000 dollars (£620) a pound and rhino horns up to approximately 30,000 dollars (£18,000) per pound.
Mr Wittig stressed that not only rhinos and elephants are at risk: "There may be as few as 3,200 wild tigers left in the world - and the increase in poaching makes extinction of tiger species a very real threat."
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".
It 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 World Wildlife Fund and Traffic, the wildlife trade monitoring network, called on governments to recognise the threat to their sovereignty posed by illegal wildlife trafficking and treat the crime "equally and in co-ordination with efforts to halt other forms of illegal trafficking, corruption and money laundering".
"Wildlife crime has escalated alarmingly in the past decade," said Jim Leape, director general of WWF International. "It is driven by global crime syndicates, and so we need a concentrated global response."