The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) regulates trade in species and their products. The original listing of the African elephant (Loxodonta africana) in Appendix II limited international trade, but their listing on Appendix I at the 7th CITES Conference of Parties (CoP) in 1989 (CITES 1989) banned international trade (Stiles 2004). Tn 1997, the 10th CITES CoP allowed sales of ivory from Botswana, Namibia and Zambia (CITES 1997) and the 12th CITES CoP conditionally refined further sales by these countries in 2007 (CITES 2007a). All these decisions relied on trends in numbers and poaching derived from the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS; CITES 2007b) and Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants Programme (MIKE; CITES 2007c), Such information clearly ignores demographic and spatial variables that drive these trends in elephant populations. We propose that clusters of conservation areas are required as spatial and demographic units on which to frame CITES decision-taking processes for elephants, and suggest that information on the demographic profiles of sub populations within clusters should supplement census information from NIIKE and ETIS.