Conservationists from around the world have begun a meeting in Thailand to try and better protect endangered species.

Discussions on curbing the illegal trade of ivory, rhino horn and shark fins are top of the agenda at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which launched in Bangkok on Sunday.

"What's needed is a really strong coordinated international effort, with much better cooperation," Steven Brod, executive director of the wildlife monitoring network TRAFFIC, told Al Jazeera.

Speaking from the conference, he said the delegates attending from 178 countries need to work together in punishing the organised crime syndicates behind, for example, illegal ivory trade.

"But it's also down to the individual action of specific countries. Thailand is one of those," he said. "In Thailand, there is a legal market for ivory that is supposed to be from domesticated Asian elephants. In reality, we know a lot of African ivory is coming to be sold."

On Sunday Thailand's Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawatra pledged new moves to end the problem.

"I believe that Thailand will be a strong ally to fight illicit global trafficking in ivory," she told delegates.

The Convention's Conference of Parties is held every three years - the last was in Doha - and is attended by senior government officials, more than 50 conservation groups, trading associations and others with a stake in the industry. Discussions and voting are often fraught, with allegations of vested interests and politicking.

'Crisis proportions'

The meeting aims to address the illegal global trade of animals and animal products which organisers claim is at crisis proportions and threatens the survival of some of world's most iconic species.

"We know that we do not only have an issue of urgency we have an issue of crisis proportions," said Achim Steiner, United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) Executive Director.

"This is a matter of trying to address a supply chain which in a terrible way has become a trade and a business of enormous proportions, a billion dollar trade in wildlife species that is analogous to that of the trade in drugs and arms," he added.

The convention comes at a time when the poaching of African elephants and rhinos is at record levels.

CITES Secretary-General John Scanlon told delegates that figures for the killing of African rhinos and elephants were "the worst we've seen in decades."

Other species high on the agenda of the 12 day meeting and looking for increased protection are sharks, manta rays, polar bears and a number of timber species.

Source: Al Jazeera And Agencies