Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE)


Establishing a Long Term System
for Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE)

3. Description of the proposed long term monitoring system (MIKE)


The long-term monitoring system of the illegal killing of elephants would be established under the auspices of CITES with technical assistance from IUCN/SSC. The goals of this system are to promote the on-going collection of data necessary to:

  • determine real trends in illegal killing of elephants
  • determine changes in these trends over time
  • determine the causes of these changes over time, and
  • to integrate appropriate analyses of such information with that of ETIS to assist decision-making by Range States and other Parties to CITES.

The analysis involved in such a system is complex and involves many factors, occurring at many levels and in many places. In spite of the difficulties associated with collecting the necessary data and conducting the types of analyses required, it is considered feasible through the establishment of a well-designed, site-specific, long-term monitoring system. The general characteristics of such a system are described in this document.

The proposed MIKE system is based predominantly on existing capacity within Range State management authorities, the memberships of the AfESG and AsESG and among NGO staff working in the field.

3.1 Required data sets

The system is designed to acquire, compile and process relevant information. The data collection efforts need, to the extent possible, to collect the required information in a systematic, standardised format (see Annex 2 and 3).

Data needs include, but may not be limited to:

  • elephant population numbers and trends
  • mortality rates
  • law enforcement (search and deterrent) effort, in terms of budgets, staffing, vehicles and equipment
  • other measurable, external factors including:

- presence or recent cessation of civil strife in or near the site or in neighbouring countries


- increasing levels of human activity (e.g. large-scale development projects or settlement schemes)


- other illegal activity or trade in other illicit commodities


- effectiveness of law enforcement effort and the judiciary


- proximity of the site to international boundaries


- illegal killing of elephants and other wildlife in nearby areas


- extent of community involvement in conservation

  • other qualitative or proxy data such as:

- notable changes in elephant behaviour or distribution patterns


- numbers of poaching camps found within the site


- intelligence reports from the local area


- changes in the profile of illegal hunters.

The system's success will depend on regular counts of live elephants and/or carcasses in the selected sites (see Annex 3). Such counts will be carried out, on average, every two years to ensure up-to-date information for future meetings of the Conference of the Parties to CITES. Additional data on measures of search and deterrent efforts, external factors and other qualitative or proxy information will be collected more regularly to ensure that the questions posed by the Parties can be answered in a satisfactory manner.

3.2 Selection of sites

All data for MIKE will be collected on a site-specific level, rather than at a national level. This will ensure that all information used in the analyses, including survey data, measures of mortality, measures of search and deterrence effort and measures of other external factors, are closely associated with the specific area.

The process of selecting sites for MIKE implementation was overseen by the AfESG and AsESG and involved a number of steps. For Africa, a minimum of one and a maximum of three sites per Range State were proposed by members of the AfESG. For Asia, a minimum of one site per Range State was proposed. (For Cambodia, where the current status of elephants is unknown, no sites were proposed). These sites were then scored against a set of criteria designed to provide a balanced, representative sample across the continent (see Annex 4).

Proposed sites were scored against the following balancing criteria:

  • sub-region
  • forest and savannah
  • high and low law enforcement effort
  • inside and outside protected areas
  • with and without recent or on-going civil strife in or around the site
  • close to or distant from an international border
  • availability of existing data prior to 1990
  • relatively large elephant populations for the sub-region
  • with and without a history of illegal killing in the area
  • government co-operation
  • long tenure of existing staff in key positions
  • single agency control over site management
  • involved in either CITES Decision 10.1, 10.2 or both; and
  • varying levels of community involvement in conservation.

Following the scoring of the proposed sites, a transparent and impartial process for the final selection of sites was carried out by an independent team of statisticians. The proposed sites were numbered, to maintain their confidentiality, and then analysed on the basis of the balancing criteria. Complex statistical techniques were used to ensure that reasonable levels of precision are generated from the proposed sampling scheme.

The three scenarios on which MIKE is based cover three progressively more robust, yet representative samples across the range states.

As there are no previous data on the levels of variability within and between sites, it is difficult to determine the exact degree of precision that the system will provide. However, this precision will improve with time and continuous sampling. A conservative estimate of the power of the three scenarios at present is:



Number of sites

Power of estimate

Scenario 1

23 sites

~ 90% change of detecting 55% change

Scenario 2

38 sites

~90% chance of detecting 43% change

Scenario 3

60 sites

~90% chance of detecting 33% change

Scenario 3, which provides approximately twice the precision of Scenario 1, is considered to be the favoured approach. Although a more precise estimation of changes in illegal killing may be desirable, a more extensive sampling scenario would be prohibitively expensive. A scenario that is more limited may preclude any reasonable ability to discern important changes or fully analyse the questions under consideration.

The actual location and individual identity of sites is subject to considerations of confidentiality, since it could defeat the purpose of the entire system for their identity to become widely known. In the worst case, poachers with access to this information could deliberately avoid the selected sites or otherwise skew the results of such a continent-wide overview. Wherever possible, the sampling design provides alternative sites, of equal validity, chosen from the overall group of proposed sites. However, it is important to note that choosing one of the alternative sites may disturb the overall representative balance of the sample. For example, changing - adding or deleting - a site from one sub-region would entail a re-balancing adjustment in sites from other sub-regions to preserve the objective and statistical integrity of the selection process.


3.3 Data collection and compilation

The process of collecting data on illegal killing in the field is complex and depends upon the type of site to be surveyed, additional types of data to be collected and on the presence of existing capability on the ground.

For example, establishing population sizes and trends in each site will require the entire spectrum of counting methods because the representative sample for Africa and Asia includes savannah, forest and mixed-habitat sites, of varying sizes and accessibility. For the purposes of this proposal, no assumptions have been made regarding the required number or availability of formal survey teams or the need to establish such teams where they may not yet exist. The cost of conducting the appropriate surveys at each site has simply been calculated at a regular frequency of every two years.

In some countries, for example Kenya, South Africa and Zimbabwe, well established and regular counts are carried out by the existing management authorities in a number of sites and these could provide contributions to MIKE. Such existing capacity is generally found in savannah sites using aerial counting methods. But in many sites, particularly those in forest habitats, counts will need to be arranged as required and teams assembled specifically for the purpose. In such cases, a locally based team may need to be established. In other circumstances, it may be more practical to establish formal teams that could be shared among sites within a country and even between countries.

As the primary focus of MIKE is the sites from which data are to be collected, each site will require a nominated person, probably an existing employee of the government management authority or an NGO currently working at the site, to act as the MIKE liaison. This person, the MIKE data collection officer, will be responsible for the collection of all data, in a standardised format, for further compilation and transmission to the next level. These data will include the results of population surveys as well as regular monitoring data, such as search and deterrent effort, budgets, external factors and other qualitative or proxy information. The data collection officers will turn these data over to the next step of compilers for onward transmission to the central MIKE data processing unit. An average of 50% of the person's time has been assumed for work related to MIKE.

The data collection officers may also be involved in the logistics of the surveys every other year. Specifics of the role include:

  • participating in surveys
  • procuring of field equipment
  • collection of all required data in a standardised format
  • training of field assistants
  • reporting of site survey results; and
  • compiling data and liasing with national or sub-regional compilers

For countries with two or more sites, a national compiler may be required. This person would again be a staff member of the government management authority, a member of the AfESG/AsESG or an employee of a locally active NGO, not necessarily based at one of the MIKE sites. There will be a further need for one or more individuals to assist with the compilation of data at the sub-regional and regional (in the case of Asia) level for onward transmission and reporting to the central data processing unit of MIKE. At all of these levels, national, sub-regional and regional compilers, participation in MIKE might require up to 25% of their time. This is costed on a time-based consultancy or secondment.

The national, sub-regional or regional compilers would take on the following functions:

  • planning and designing national, sub-regional or regional data collection protocols
  • advising and supervising MIKE data collection officers at the sites
  • training of site staff including survey team leaders and members
  • helping to co-ordinate and arrange site survey efforts
  • compiling data for the country, sub-region or region
  • forwarding data to the central data processing unit
  • managing the budgets
  • procuring of field and office equipment; and
  • liasing with the central unit and the relevant Range States authorities.

The core of the system will be a central Technical Support and Data Processing Unit. The functions are described below but a key role is the provision of training and technical support to the data collectors and compilers mentioned above at regional, sub-regional, national and site levels. This unit would also provide overall co-ordination to the entire survey and data collection process, as well as carrying out the reporting function for MIKE. The organisational structure is outlined in Figure 1, below.

Figure 1. The organisational structure of MIKE


3.4 Technical support and data processing unit

The establishment and implementation of MIKE will require IUCN/SSC to establish a special unit, in collaboration with the Secretariats of their AfESG and the AsESG, to co-ordinate and oversee the technical aspects of the development and operation of the long-term monitoring system. This would be a permanent technical support and data processing unit, based in a convenient location for ease of access to and communication with the regional, sub-regional, national compilers and the site-based officers involved in the data collection and compilation. Due to the long-standing presence of the AfESG Secretariat and the African Elephant Database, Nairobi has been proposed as the site for establishing this Unit.

The unit would be staffed as follows:

  • Head of unit
  • Information technologist
  • Support assistant.

The functions of this unit would be to:

  • co-ordinate the implementation of MIKE in Africa and Asia
  • develop data collection and compilation protocols and information management procedures for data on illegal killing of elephants from a representative sample of sites throughout elephant Range States in Africa and Asia
  • oversee statistical analysis and technical interpretation of data relating to illegal killing of elephants (including consultation with the AfESG and AsESG memberships)
  • provide technical assistance and capacity building to Range States and others in the development of on-going monitoring programmes in the field, and for analytical capability at the national and site levels
  • provide regular reports to CITES and participating countries as well as responding to official requests for information
  • ensuring full integration with ETIS
  • evaluate the MIKE system regularly; and
  • recommend and implement changes and improvements, as required.


3.5 Capacity building

A vital component of the programme is to ensure that the Range States and site-based personnel possess the necessary skills to ensure the effectiveness, sustainability and, where possible, expansion of the MIKE system. For this reason, a programme of capacity building and training has been built into the system. This programme would be co-ordinated by the proposed Technical Support and Data Processing Unit, using a combination of their own resources and those of consulting experts.

The main thrust of the capacity building programme would be the development of training curricula and workshops to be held in each of the four sub-regions once a year for the compilers and site collection officers. A key element of this would be a 'training of trainers' approach designed to permit a cascade effect so that participants would be qualified to run their own workshops at the country or site level.

An important objective would be to ensure a consistent, standardised approach to data collection. In addition, a great deal of expertise is available regarding counting and survey methodologies and these skills need to be shared widely amongst the Range States. Providing technical advice, for example with regard to survey methods and logistics, would be an important function of the Technical Support and Data Processing Unit, quite separate from the formal training programme.


3.6 Integration of the Information from MIKE and ETIS

Data collected from MIKE would need to be integrated with the Elephant Trade and Information System (ETIS) managed by TRAFFIC. Similar methods of analysis should be used within each system, and it might be valuable to involve the same analytical experts in examining the data from each system. IUCN and TRAFFIC would work together in identifying independent analytical experts, and developing methodologies to ensure that each exercise benefits as much as possible from shared understanding of the data and problems within each system. The final interpretation of what is happening to elephants and the trade over time should involve some interpretation of analytical efforts from each system. Any formal reports to the CITES Standing Committee or future Conferences of the Parties should include joint interpretation of the information from each system.

To ensure the integration and most efficient operation of the two systems, the responsibility for overseeing them, and for any joint output of analysis and interpretation rest with IUCN and TRAFFIC at their respective international Secretariats. Since TRAFFIC is formally a part of IUCN's Global Programme and there is already a close working relationship between the Secretariats on matters relating to CITES, this integration should be efficient and effective.


3.7 Reporting and auditing

Expected outputs of the illegal killing monitoring information system would include:

  • CITES reports - regular and special reports to the CITES Secretariat and, as and when necessary, the CITES Standing Committee or the Conference of the Parties
  • site or country reports - country-specific reports to the elephant Range States to assist them in understanding their own individual situation
  • donor reports - regular reporting as required by donors, and
  • liaison with TRAFFIC's ETIS.


3.7.1 Reporting structure

The reporting structure for MIKE is laid out in Figure 2, below.


3.7.2 Independent audit

There is legitimate concern that vesting responsibility in the same organisations for developing both monitoring systems and for interpretation of the information gathered, risks incorporating a particular bias in the information presented to CITES for decision-making. While IUCN and TRAFFIC are regarded as the primary international organisations with both the breadth of expertise and perspective on issues relating to CITES and elephants necessary for taking on the responsibilities for these two systems, several steps might be taken to guarantee objectivity and transparency throughout the process, including the possibility of an independent external audit of the entire system.


Figure 2. The reporting structure of MIKE

4. Costing
2. Background to the process