Front-line transport workers largely lack awareness on how criminal networks disguise illegal wildlife products, it emerged at a summit in Bangkok.
Customs officials and wildlife trade experts say that educating freight forwarders and handlers of air, ship and land cargoes could help the fight against trafficking.
Their recent meeting with transport operators was the first of its kind.
“There was a genuine shock (among participants from the transport industry in the meeting) as to the magnitude of wildlife trade and the methods of disguise used by traffickers to transport these commodities,” said Martin Palmer, an expert in global trade compliance requirements and international transport.
“For example, when a rhino horn is ground down to powder, it’s almost impossible to identify the difference between a box of grey chalk and a box of rhino horn powder, from a visual check.
“Facts like these came as a big surprise to participants from the transport industry.”
Wildlife organisations say around 35,000 elephants are killed for their tusks every year, mainly in Africa.
The South African government has said poaching of its rhinos reached a record of 1,215 last year.
Only around 3,000 tigers are now left across the globe, which is only 5% of what the population was a century ago.
Experts say despite international efforts against wildlife trafficking, criminal networks have been adopting new tactics in transporting the illegal goods – which are estimated to be worth up to $23bn annually, according to the United Nations Environment Programme.
“And a lot of these people (from the transport industry) said over and over again that a lot of freight handlers lacked awareness,” said Tom Milliken, an elephant and rhino trafficking expert with Traffic, an international wildlife trade monitoring network.