Keith Somerville


In almost every field of human activity people try to influence one another’s opinions and persuade them to change their behaviour.  All sorts of methods are utlised and all types of modern communications forms are used – social media, radio, TV, newspapers, public meetings and advocacy campaigns.  We hear endlessly, in this era of Trump, Fox News, Brexit and Breitbart, of fake news as though this is something completely new. It is not, it is just another stage in the evolution of propaganda, the word that sums up the use of any available form of communication to exercise influence – from stone age cave paintings showcasing the hunting feats of communities to the fake news bots of social media.

This method of political and social activity is ubiquitous. It is best summed up by Garth Jowett and Victoria O’Donnell it as follows: “Propaganda is the deliberate, systematic attempt to shape perceptions, manipulate cognitions, and direct behavior to achieve a response that furthers the desired intent of the propagandist.”[i] Its modern uses can vary from trying to sell a product (or undermine trust in a competing product) to campaigns over major political decision like Brexit, with the use of truth, half-truths and outright falsehoods, and presidential elections with the well-known activities of Trump and Fox News during the 2016 US presidential elections. That campaign used of a variety of underhand tricks, name-calling (crooked Hillary), unsupportable accusations and extreme promises that would never be delivered and were never intended to be.

There are many techniques  used in propaganda that are particularly relevant to the campaigning document concerning the relationship between trophy hunting and conversation which prompted this article.  They were identified by the American Institute for Propaganda Analysis (IPA) in the late 1930s in response to the global growth in the use of propaganda in the run-up to the Second World War, including Nazi political and hare propaganda, Spanish civil war propaganda from all sides, the radio and printed propaganda of the American racist and fascist “hate priest” Father Charles Coughlin[ii].

A key method described by the IPA is card-stacking: Which “Involves the selection and use of facts or falsehoods, illustrations or distractions, and logical or illogical statements to give the best or the worst possible case for an idea, program, person, or product.

  • Facts or falsehoods: In propaganda, the use of truth or lie is governed only by its credibility. If you are not familiar with the subject, you might not be able to detect a lie.
  • Illustrations or distractions:
  • Logical or illogical statements: The various reasoning fallacies in here.


You might also include Cherry-Picking. The propagandist uses only those facts and details that support their argument. The selected reasons are used to support the conclusion. You will get misled if you do not notice that important details are missing. The worst part of card-stacking is that it can be very difficult to detect if you are not really knowledgeable about the subject.”


Propaganda and Conservation

The broad area of conservation and the competing approaches to it – especially the role of consumptive, sustainable-use strategies in an array of instruments to protect habitats and wildlife while ensuring the rights and livelihoods of local people are advanced along with the interests of the environment and wildlife – have for decades been passionately and often bitterly fought over.  Conservation policy trench warfare developed particularly during the debates of the late 1970s and 1980s in (notably between East Africa-based conservationists like Iain Douglas-Hamilton and southern African ones like Rowan Martin, but with the support of the veteran East African game warden Ian Parker for the pro-trade side) over elephant numbers and whether a legal ivory trade helped or hindered conservation.

In the run up to the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) conference in 1989, where the international trade in ivory was banned, against the wishes of southern African elephant range states and of many conservationists who believed regulated, legal sustainable use of ivory was a means of funding elephant conservation and giving local people incentives to tolerate dangerous wildlife, a bitter propaganda battle was fought to influence public opinion in CITES member states to get their governments to vote in a particular way.  The American-based African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) had been in favour of sustainable-use strategies and did not oppose a legal ivory trade. But by 1989, AWF (followed soon by the Worldwide Fund for Nature, WWF) had moved to a position of total opposition to the ivory trade and was seeking to influence  American, British, other European and key African states to vote for a ban. A simple ivory ban campaign was more effective at raising donations than a nuanced one. Lurid posters of elephants with their faces hacked off were used, along with the slogan African Chainsaw Massacre.  This set the tone for future debates, advocacy campaigns and propaganda, using all the means available and deploying methods like cherry-picking, card-stacking and name-calling to create sensation, emotion and influence the opinions of a public not well-versed in the serious and complex issues of conservation.

The current debate over trophy hunting – gaining pace as another CITES conference looms and also in the long-lasting wake of the overblown press feeding frenzy over the killing of a lion called Cecil near Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe in 2015 – is again in full spate with attempts to get the British government to ban imports of trophies from hunting and to get the British public to adopt a strong anti-trophy hunting position. Such blanket bans are seen as ineffective and even counter-productive by a diverse group of conservation scientists (most of whom could not be called keen advocates of hunting by any stretch of the imagination – such as Amy Dickman of WildCRU and founder of the Ruaha Carnivore Project in Tanzania, who believes that ending trophy hunting would remove vast areas of wildlife habitat that currently support much of Africa’s wildlife outside protected areas), international conservation bodies (such as the International Union for the Conservation of Nature – IUCN – and Save the Rhino).

Anti-hunting Propaganda – extreme card-stacking in operation

The old male lion, named Cecil by researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit of Oxford University (WildCRU).  The lion was killed illegally in a hunting concession (which lacked alion permit for that year)  on the boundary of Hwange.  The incident led to an extreme campaign of vilification of the hunter and the hunting industry in general, leading to animal rights advocacy groups such as Born Free, Lion Aid and Conservation Action Trust pushing for the United States, Britain and other European countries to ban the import of hunting trophies from those African states which permitted safari hunting.


This campaign has continued, albeit at a lower level than in the two months following the killing of Cecil, but lingers on and its is now one of the cards that is perpetually stacked to oppose forms of sustainable-use conservation involving trophy hunting as a means of raising income for local communities and for conservation.  This has gained pace in Britain with celebrities, animal rights groups and some politicians pushing for Britain to impose a ban on the import of trophies from safari hunting.  At a meeting between the Secretary of State for the Environment, Michael Gove, and sustainable-use supporters from the scientific and conservation communities, hunting groups and proponents of a ban on trophy hunting in London on 15th May 2019, a campaigning pamphlet was distributed widely by those supporting a ban.  It was entitled Trophy Hunting and Conservation. An assessment of evidence regarding impacts and benefits of sport hunting on wildlife and habitat conservation, with a front page box saying conservation before trophy hunting”.  On close reading it clearly is not an assessment of “impacts and benefits” and it bears no author or organisational name to identify its origins. It was distributed by the Campaign Against Trophy Hunting.

On reading the pamphlet is clear that it is a perfect example of card-stacking by proponents of a ban on trophy hunting and contains no scientifically supported assessment of impacts or benefits but a seemingly endlessly series of bullet points criticising hunting and trying to break down the arguments in favour of hunting as part of a package of sustainable use policies. It is such an extreme example of card-stacking, cherry-picking and name-calling that I will be using it in the course on Propaganda methods I teach at the University of Kent. In particular is personifies in one document, both in content and style, what the IPA identified as “the selection and use of facts or falsehoods, illustrations or distractions, and logical or illogical statements”.

Facts are presented out of context, quotes are cherry-picked from reputable organisations and conservation scientists and presented in a way that totally negates their original meaning in well-constructed arguments, and there is a wealth of inaccuracy and partial truths.  It is all presented in the form of pages of bullet points and short, punchy paragraphs lacking any balance or any construction of a data-backed narrative.  Reading it is like having a series of rusty and twisted nails hammered into your head. Many of the points supposedly drawn from “studies” are actually from other anti-hunting campaigning groups or individuals like the Humane Society of the USA,  Conservation Action and John Grobler, creating an echo chamber where one campaign group validates the advocacy of another.

Like all propaganda it is emotive, repetitive and follows a relentlessly consistent and simple line.  Like the mantra I was taught on Rugby Football Union coaching courses as a youth rugby coach, Keep it Simple Stupid – the KISS principle.  This campaigning document has the KISS principle in spades, aiming to convince those with little in-depth knowledge of the subject but a love of or interest in wildlife of the evils and damaging effects of hunting. It definitely keeps to the KISS principle as the document is simple and stupid.

The first and most extreme example of its stupidity is the statement in large type at the start of the executive summary that ‘”Big game hunting, in terms of conservation, does not work”- IUCN’.  Thereby attaching the IUCN’s name and reputation for the following lengthy and repetitive denunciation of hunting and the arguments that it can play a part in conservation.  This supposed IUCN judgement is taken from a recent discussion paper by Bertrand Chardonnet, As Dilys Roe, chair of the IUCN Specialist Group on Sustainable Use and Livelihoods and 14 other leading conservation practitioners and specialists, wrote in the South African Daily Maverick, after it published an article based on the Chardonnet report and attacking hunting as a conservation tool, “The report which makes this conclusion was commissioned by a programme of the IUCN in order to stimulate discussion, but includes a clear disclaimer that it represents the views of the author only — Bertrand Chardonnet — and not the IUCN.


By contrast, the IUCN has a clear policy supporting sustainable use of wildlife, of which well-regulated trophy hunting is one form, and has produced a briefing paper which clearly sets out the conservation and livelihood benefits of trophy hunting.”  The version of the Chardonnet paper used by the Daily Maverick and, it seems quoted by the campaigning literature I am examining from the Campaign Against Trophy Hunting, is one on the website of the anti-hunting advocacy group Conservation Action Trust, which conveniently omits that wording that the paper is Chardonnet’s view and not that of the IUCN, and the foreword on the IUCN site which makes clear this is a discussion not a policy paper and that it is about the future of protected areas not hunting per se.

The campaigning document also cites the IUCN regularly, as though its policy positions are the same as the campaign, which they are not. It also cherry-picks quotes from well-established scientists such as Andrew Loveridge and Craig Packer in ways to use selected quotes to support their arguments. It totally ignores the wider context and the fact that scientists like Craig Packer, who has long campaigned against corruption and incompetence in the management of trophy hunting in Tanzania, are now extremely worried that the closure of hunting concessions there and the turning of some which are vacant into farming areas will be a disaster for wildlife[iii].

There are endless examples given of numbers of trophies exported from Africa, and numbers of species such as elephants, lions, leopards, bears and many more species legally hunted worldwide, but with no context of the circumstances, let alone the rights of wildlife range states in any part of the world to decide how their wildlife resources are used. They are there to raise emotions and impart a sense of horror. Interestingly, given the paper is trying to influence politicians from the Conservative government in the UK, there is no reference to pheasant, grouse, partridge and wildfowl shooting in the UK.

There is the use of broad, unsupportable statements as though they are fact – such as that “Studies of lions have found trophy hunting to have been the primary driver of the species’ decline in trophy hunting areas”.  One must ask which studies, which areas and when. Certainly, at times, poor regulation, inadequate age-limits and monitoring have led to over-hunting of males in some areas, but the primary threats to lions in Africa are habitat loss, human encroachment on wildlife areas and human-lion conflict[iv].

Throughout the campaigning material there are similar quotes out of context and claims that do not stand up to close scrutiny. Two examples in the section on whether hunting fees benefit conservation are particularly glaring – one is the claim that in Namibia there is a lack of evidence that income from very limited hunting of black rhino benefits conservation. That is not true. The WWF is no great advocate of trophy hunting but it believes that community conservancies in Namibia, combining regulated trophy hunting (including of a very small quota of black rhino) and tourism, is a policy that has worked. As its website states:

“In the mid-1990s in Namibia, wildlife numbers were at historical lows in many areas. But since the government’s visionary support for a community-based conservation strategy, including some tightly regulated trophy hunting, the recovery of wildlife has been remarkable. Namibia now boasts the largest free-roaming population of black rhino, as well as expanding numbers of elephants, lions and giraffes and the world’s largest cheetah population. Local communities have also benefitted substantially from the programme.”.


The campaigning document goes on to lambast the Tsholotsho Rural District Council in Zimbabwe for spending income from elephant hunting quota on a new football stadium, roads and other infrastructure projects.  This statement ignores the crucial role of income from hunting in supporting poor rural communities, improving their infrastructure and amenities directly from money raised through sustainable use of wildlife. In so doing, revenue from hunting makes wildlife of great value and obvious to people and increases tolerance and a sense of ownership. Without community buy-in and benefit, wildlife will just disappear, especially dangerous game and species that destroy crops or kill livestock, and so actually impoverish people.

I could engage in my own card-stacking against this campaigning document but that would be as tedious for the reader as reading the document was tedious and frustrating for someone who knows about the issues in detail.

I will end by reinforcing the message that starting this document with an attempt to hitch the work of conservation scientists and the IUCN to its bandwagon is totally false, and the attempt by its authors to gain credibility in an underhand and unsupportable fashion as blindingly obvioius to anyone who knows about conservation.

Dr David Macdonald of WildCRU, in a scientific study commissioned by the British government and published in December 2016, made it crystal clear that:

“There is little evidence that trophy hunting has substantial negative effects at a national or regional level. Where trophy hunting is well-regulated, transparent and devolves sufficient authority to the land managers, it has the potential to contribute to lion conservation”. He goes on to call for trophy hunting to be carried out with clear principles of good governance, and that in such circumstances, where corruption is rooted out and hunting is properly regulated that: “The most fundamental benefit of trophy hunting to lion conservation is that it provides a financial incentive to maintain lion habitat that might otherwise be converted to non-wildlife land uses.”[v]

The IUCN has a clear position on trophy hunting in its 2016 Briefing Paper :

Well managed trophy hunting, which takes place in many parts of the world, can and does generate critically needed incentives and revenue for government, private and community landowners to maintain and restore wildlife as a land use and to carry out conservation actions (including anti-poaching interventions). It can return much needed income, jobs, and other important economic and social benefits to indigenous and local communities in places where these benefits are often scarce. In many parts of the world indigenous and local communities have chosen to use trophy hunting as a strategy for conservation of their wildlife and to improve sustainable livelihoods.


Professor Keith Somerville is a member of the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology at the University of Kent, where he teaches at the Centre for Journalism; is a Fellow of the Zoological Society of London, a Senior research fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies at the University of London, and a member of the IUCN Sustainable Use and Livelihoods Specialist Group (SULi). His book – Ivory. Power and Poaching in Africa, was published in 2016, and his new book, Humans and Lion. Conflict, Conservation and Coexistence, is being published by Routledge in July 2019;




[i] Garth S. Jowett and Victoria O’Donnel, Propaganda and Persuasion, Thousand Oaks, CA; Sage, 2006.


[ii] Keith Somerville, Radio Propaganda and the Broadcasting of Hatred: Historical Development and Definitions,  London: Palgrave/Macmillan, 2012

[iii] Personal conversation with the author in Oxford, 22nd Martch 2019.

[iv] See, Keith Somerville, Humans and Lion. Conflict, Conservation and Coexistence,  Oxford: Routledge, forthcoming in July 2019; Amy Dickman, Ending trophy hunting could actually be worse for endangered species,, and David Macdonald, Report on Lion Conservation with Particular Respect to the Issue of Trophy Hunting A report prepared by Professor David W. Macdonald CBE, FRSE, DSc Director of WildCRU, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford at the request of Rory Stewart OBE Under Secretary of State for the Environment


[v] Macdonald, xiv.