Conservation management options for southern African elephants range from local to regional scales. Here we review these options and argue in favour of actions that will deal with the causes rather than symptoms of elephant numbers that are locally high. Metapopulation theory ensures population persistence, while our approach extends this in order to stabilise elephant numbers regionally. By allowing for the development and maintenance of regional sinks, we may also limit numbers in sources. This application of the metapopulation metaphor is a powerful ecological platform from which to manage elephant numbers and impact through southern Africa. Our approach engages the causes of the apparently high abundance of elephants in parts of southern Africa. It moves away from the practice of dealing only with numbers (symptoms) when managing the impact of elephants on other species. While providing an ecological basis for the development of elephant management options, this needs to be melded with social, political and economic realities through southern Africa. In this regard we are encouraged by the ongoing development of several Transfrontier Conservation programmes and Peace Parks across the region.