Simba: But, Dad, don't we eat the antelope?
Mufasa: Yes, Simba, but let me explain. When we die, our bodies become the grass, and the antelope eat the grass. So we are all connected in the great Circle of Life.
In a setting where animals are portrayed as sapient, Carnivore Confusion arises. In a Sapient Eat Sapient world, predators will often become the villain, either monstrous or outright evil and sadistic, and heroic predators will have to switch to an alternative diet.
However, in some works, it will be pointed out that predators are just following their instinct, predation is part of nature and there is no other way to survive. This puts predatory animals in a more sympathetic light — they might be portrayed as heroes Forced into Evil, or as noble antagonists. Sometimes their prey will be portrayed as non-sapient, but other times the sapient prey will be aware that being hunted is a fact of life and will hold no grudge against the predator for this. Often, it will be stated that hunting for food is acceptable, but hunting for sport or overhunting is not. Occasionally, an individual predator and prey will become friends, and the predator will protect their friend from the other predators, but will have no problem with hunting other prey animals. Another common treatment is for this trope to coincide with Scavengers Are Scum, when hunting is depicted as part of the circle of life, but scavengers as cowardly opportunists — even though in real life, scavengers are just as important parts of the ecosystem as hunting predators are (not to mention that most, if not all, predators scavenge if given the chance) and eating dead bodies is certainly less violent than making them in the first place. If the predator is an Anti-Hero, then chances are the herbivores being antagonistic and aggressive, even cruel to the predators.
Very much Truth in Television — and by extension, a staple of any serious nature documentary — predatory animals aren't particularly cruel, they just do what they evolved to do and it's not like they can ponder over their actions unlike their fictional counterparts. When not hunting or protecting territory/family, they might even be less aggressive than many herbivores. Also, they play an important role in keeping the delicate balance of the ecosystem by controlling the population of the species they prey upon.
Because this cycle of predators and prey works as a balance, it is also justified by Upsetting the Balance, in which keeping the predators from killing prey ruins that balance.
- A point of tension in You Are Umasou. Heart is a T. rex raised by herbivores, and can't eat leaves, instead needing fruits that have a bit more nutrients and are easier to digest. After a fight with another rex, he realizes (somewhat to his horror) that he finds meat delicious, and runs off to live alone as a predator. Even after adopting the titular Ankylosaurus as his son, he continues to hunt other animals. It's pointed out that until he left to live as a carnivore, he was basically slowly starving even as he ate fruit, and that in order to survive he had to eat meat instead simply because that's what his body requires.
- Wolf's Rain: The wolves' ability to replenish energy by sleeping in the moonlight is no substitute for actual food. Kiba mentions having gone a month with only moonlight to sustain him, and consequently is much thinner than the others. They find a decomposing deer carcass in one of the early episodes (which Tsume turns down, generally because it's rotting). After Toboe kills a giant walrus, they eat the walrus—and in a surprisingly dignified acknowledgment, the walrus says something along the lines of, "You may have killed me, but I have saved you all."
- One Stormy Night is about an unlikely, strong Forbidden Friendship between a goat, Mei, and a wolf, Gabu. The wolf pack is portrayed as an antagonist group, but Gabu is not treated by the film as being bad for having to kill other animals to survive. He does try to hide it from Mei, and Mei doesn't like it, but Mei is fully aware he's a wolf.
- Not generally accepted in Beastars (where predation is criminalized and carnivores live on a diet of eggs and other meat-substitutes), but according to Zaguan, sea creatures see life as a cycle, where the dead come back in other forms; therefore, one can be prey in one life and predator in another. As such, sea animals have a more open view on predation than land animals.
- Calvin and Hobbes: While the nature of Hobbes' eating habits (alongside his everything) are ambiguous, he and Calvin frequently and frankly discuss a tiger's real life eating habits with nothing less than admiration. One early strip mentions 'Tommy Chestnutt', a bully of Calvin Hobbes is said to have eaten.
- This is the main aesop of the French fairy tale "Marlaguette". One day, a girl living in a forest is attacked by a hungry wolf and dragged to its lair. On the way up there, it trips over and falls unconscious. Out of pity, she brings it to her home and cures it on the condition that it will change his ways and become a herbivore. It agrees, but after a few days, the wolf struggles to gulp down food its stomach isn't supposed to digest and malnourishment sets in. Eventually, Marlaguette understands she can't go against the laws of nature and allows the wolf to both return to its forest and eat other animals to get back to health.
- A Backwards Grin: Trapped in a bewildering forest with no way out and frequently finding barren berry bushes, Mawile has no choice but to accept this, hunting other Pokémon for food. And something on an instinctual level gets rid of most of the guilt.
- In We Are All Pokémon Trainers, while all Pokémon are sapient, predation by them is seen as merely a fact of life, though there are right and wrong ways to go about it, and due to the Vow humans are normally off-limits for hunting.
- The Aristocats: Scat Cat and his Alley Cats were going to eat Roquefort the mouse, but they are all portrayed as friendly, heroic and whimsical - cats eating mice is just the way things are.
- In Back to the Outback, predators are never shown in a bad light just for being predators, fitting the film’s theme of the cast being Not Evil, Just Misunderstood animals, most of which are predators themselves. When Dave and the other Tasmanian devils lead the group to a colony of flying foxesnote who can lead them through the mountains, and tells them not to worry because "they only drink warm blood", he remembers that Pretty Boy is the only member of the group who isn’t cold blooded, and just comments "Oh, sorry mate. That’s a bit awkward.".
- In The Lion King (1994), Mufasa explains to his son Simba that hunting and eating prey is part of the Circle of Life. Coincides with Scavengers Are Scum, as hyenas are portrayed as greedy, cowardly and having no respect towards the Circle of Life (even though in Real Life, both hyenas and lions are predators that hunt for prey as well as eat carrion).
- In Ice Age, the pack of sabretooth cats are the villains because they hunt humans not for food but out of revenge. Diego befriends two herbivores and goes through a Heel–Face Turn while keeping his carnivorous diet (he's seen hunting in the sequels). Also, Manfred the mammoth berates the two brontotheres for trying to kill Sid the sloth despite being herbivores.
Manfred: You know, I don't like animals that kill for pleasure.
- Pixar's Finding Nemo has Marlin and Dory almost swallowed by a whale. The whale was trying to ingest a school of frightened krill; Marlin and Dory happened to be on the pursuit trajectory at the time. As Dory points out: "Whales don't eat fish, they eat krill." Nothing about the whale seems malicious or vindictive, and the heroes emerge undigested and intact. Also, Nigel the pelican may be a fish-eater, but he helps Marlin (and protects him from seagulls) after learning that he's Nemo's father looking for his son. Other predators are either portrayed monstrous (the barracuda, the anglerfish) or struggling with their Horror Hunger (the sharks).
Nigel: (to Nemo) Sorry if I ever took a snap at you. Fish gotta swim; birds gotta eat.
- In the sequel, Finding Dory, when Marlin and Nemo encounter a duo of sea lions, Marlin claims that they are vicious predators, but as they are lazy and not hungry, they don't hurt the two fish and even give them some useful advice. Dory also ends up in a bucket of dead fish that are meant to be the food of Destiny the whale shark, but after Destiny is revealed to be Dory's childhood friend, this gets forgotten. The giant bioluminescent squid, on the other hand, is a monstrous Super-Persistent Predator.
- In Vuk the Little Fox, the protagonist is a fox who hunts other animals. Although the prey animals are also portrayed as capable of emotions and speech, at no point is his predatory behavior seen as villainous.
- In Speckles: The Tarbosaurus, Speckles and his family are all predators, and hunting is presented as something they do for a living. The villain, One-Eye the Tyrannosaurus rex, is not evil because he's a carnivore, but because he's a cunning, calculating sadist who wants to destroy his fellow predators.
- In Jurassic Park (1993), Alan Grant takes a moment to explain to Lex and Tim that the predatory dinosaurs aren't monsters; they're just animals who "just do what they do". (And this is just an hour or two after they barely escaped a T. rex attack.)
- Beware of Chicken:
- Bi De is shocked the first time his Great Master kills and eats one of the other chickens, but after thinking it over, he decides that it is reasonable, since the chicken in question had failed to awaken into a Spirit Beast like himself despite having ample opportunity. Once Jin eventually realises that Bi De has human-level intelligence, they're able to properly discuss it before the next time he makes chicken soup, establishing his policy that sapience is the deciding factor. Chun Ke the pig is reluctant to eat any creature grown on the farm, Bi De accepts it as natural, Wa Shi the carp is just greedy for his share, but none of them actually oppose it.
- While Bi De and the other Spirit Beasts kill off or drive away anything that tries to prey on the Fa Ram livestock, Jin instructs them to leave the predators be in the wild as they are still a key part of the natural order.
- This is how characters in Bravelands think. All animals are sapient and they have a Code. It's okay to kill others, as long as it's for food or self-defense.
- In Burgess Bedtime Stories, predation is typically acknowledged as being necessary for survival, but killing for sport or in excess is portrayed negatively.
- During an anti-badger-culling protest in The Cold Moons, a teenage girl won a contest for her poem "Nature's Plan Of Living". It's about how animals usually kill to survive, not in anger.
- Dinotopia: Bix explains that Tyrannosaurus and the other carnivorous dinosaurs in the Rainy Basin are not evil, just hungry by nature, with no taste for green food or diplomacy. Convoys traveling through their territory carry fish to stave them off long enough to get by. Some dinosaurs even make an end-of-life pilgrimage into the Rainy Basin, offering their bodies to the predators as a final act of service.
- Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid discusses this in "...Ant Fugue":
Anteater: I am on the best of terms with ant colonies. It's just ANTS that I eat, not colonies—and that is good for both parties: me, and the colony.
- The Guardians of Ga'Hoole series centers around sapient owls and their stories. The fact that they eat other animals is acknowledged throughout the series, though hunting rarely gets much focus, but it's clear that they hunt other species, and many other species can talk. Most relevantly, Digger's species usually hunts snakes, despite Miss P the snake being a protagonist, and he has to be informed that she is not acceptable prey.
- In The Jungle Book, all animals follow the Law of the Jungle. The Law allows predators to hunt for food, but there are specific cases it forbids: hunting for pleasure, killing other animals at a watering hole during drought, and hunting Man (ostensibly because he's too weak to defend himself, but they all know that the real reason is Man's propensity for Disproportionate Retribution when threatened). Shere Khan the tiger is villainous because he disrespects the Law of the Jungle.
- In Louise Searl's books Kona's Song and The Way of Kings (2021), about wolves and lions respectively, the predators have great respect for their prey, knowing they cannot survive without them. The wolves have a special howl to send the prey's spirit to the next world, and the lions recite ritual words to thank their prey for its sacrifice.
- In Seeker Bears the protagonist are all young bears who are struggling to survive without their mothers. Hunger and the need to hunt for food is relevant in every book, especially the earlier ones. Toklo's ability to hunt on land, which all of the other three struggle with for various reasons, makes him a key provider for the group, something he takes great pride in despite his complaining about having to do it.
- Nautilus Pompilius: When predation is an allegory of violence in human society, as in the song "Wings", it is described as something terrible. But in the song "Once again I see R'N'R", where predation is just animal predation (or maybe a metaphor for the pursuit of inspiration), the author says about a cheetah running after an antelope:
I know what's keeping me focused on this race,
Trying to worry about someone,
By running for both of them,
Not knowing who should win.
- Dinosaurs plays this for dark laughs. The dino civilization is as carnivorous as it gets. Their sapient prey ranges from blasé about it to actively promoting their place in the food chain. Indeed, predation is considered so natural that herbivory is socially unacceptable. Also, this show's idea of "food going bad" is prey forgetting its place and fighting back.
- Pokémon: For each Pokemon you capture, an entry will appear in your Pokedex stating something about it. Often that will be its enemies or what it preys on, with the relationship between Heatmor and Durant being a notable example. Never are predatory species presented as particularly villainous.
- Some of Tadpole Treble's bestiary pages stress that many of the creatures that attempt to eat Baton on her journey home are only doing so out of natural instinct, and that it shouldn't be taken personally. Even Etude, the bullfrog that provides Baton with the pages of this bestiary, off-handedly states that he might eat her himself if he gets too hungry.
- Pointedly inverted in Tooth and Tail as part of its Central Theme: Almost all the animals in the game are omnivorous and can naturally survive eating plants, but the religion/culture of their society teaches that vegetables are 'the food of beasts' and in order to be civilized you must eat meat. The game starts as said civilization is on the verge of breakdown due to too much demand for meat and the Slave Race that provided it dying out, and a Civil War breaks out where the victors literally feast on their victims' corpses. By the end of the game, three of the four factions make a last-ditch attempt at returning to vegetarianism in order to survive, only to be destroyed by the fourth faction because they'd lose all their power if no-one wants to eat meat any more.
- In 21st Century Fox predation is perfectly socially acceptable and a few times the fox main character eat side characters just for annoying them. Though in later arcs a form of Artificial Meat called SPAM is introduced and still later predation is declared unconstitutional, for a couple days.
- In Carry On the only time a character raises an objection to predation concerned eating calvesnote .
- Housepets!: The conveniently off-screen version. Predation is constantly alluded to as a nagging threat for prey animals (The title of one book is 'Housepets! Hope They Don't Get Eaten'), but outside Grape eating a mouse onscreen in some Early-Installment Weirdness, we never get to witness it. Also discussed by Steward towards Keene; Part of the reason his belief in Keene's attempts to obtain true animal equality wavered is the simple fact that prey animals are constantly threatened by predator animals, which will never go away even if they can (and do) live amicably together, which he especially realizes now that he's become a predatory animal himself.
- Bill Holbrook's daily webcomic Kevin & Kell has Herd Thinners, Incorporated, in which predators stalk, kill and retrieve prey to feed other carnivorous Civilized Animals that are too busy with paying jobs to do their own hunting.
- Pet Foolery: Naturally stemming where comics about dark comedy and comics about genuine animal facts come together. Multiple strips feature animals predating on each other and holding conversations during it, with the predators largely unbothered and just doing what they have to. Some strips feature the predator releasing the prey (Such as an owl being tricked into releasing a gerbil), some feature the eating happening offscreen (Such as this one, which ends with the snake more willing to eat a mouse backtalking them), and some rare ones show the afterwards (Such as a snake going very quickly from friendly towards a cockatiel to eating them).
- The Suburban Jungle uses this trope. The majority of the main characters are predator species (the main character and her family are tigers, her love interest is a lion, one of her closest friends is a cheetah, her manager is a wolf and so on...), with a handful of prey species being part of the cast as well. When predation IS touched upon, its shown that predators will occasionally hunt outside the cities wherethere are large stretches of savannah-like parks. However, a lot of predators, being Civilized Animals, are incapable of ignoring their sympathy for the prey and have fallen back on buying their meat in stores.
- Lioden: If you chose to side with Heaven during the October event and have good karma, Aiatar will say that he doesn't hold lions killing other creatures to live against them, as it's part of nature.
- Discussed in the Pitch Meeting for Jurassic World Dominion, when the Giganotosaurus corners the heroes before being taken down by other dinosaurs.
Producer: Oh, hell yeah. That'll teach that dinosaur to... uh, be a dinosaur?
Screenwriter: Yeah, got 'em sir!
- Jungle Cubs: Kaa routinely eats or attempts to eat sapient animals around the rest of the gang, which is treated as another quirk of his. When Louie, a prey animal, jokes about switching him to a banana diet in one episode, he responds by swallowing a nearby bird.
- The Lion Guard zigzags this trope with Predators Are Mean. All of the villains this far have been predators, but the prey animals have an amicable relationship with the lions and other good predators of the Pride Lands and apparently don't hold it against them that they need to eat some of them occasionally. The protagonists are also all predators, except for Beshte the hippo. This is largely because the show doesn't really address the issue, instead choosing to awkwardly ignore or gloss over it, while still making it clear that the carnivores in the cast really do hunt off screen.
- Molly of Denali: In "Butterflies and Bunny Babies," baby hares suddenly appear in Trini's garden, but a hawk is flying above that could eat them. Dr. Begaye, a vet, reminds Molly and Trini that hawks need to eat too, but tells them it's okay to put the baby hare back in the nest, since Suki, a pet, disturbed it.
- A core theme of Primal is that in the fight for survival, the need to kill and eat is natural. While many of the predators may seem villainous from the perspective of the protagonists (who, being a Neanderthal and a Tyrannosaurus, are both predators themselves), this is frequently (but not exclusively) a matter of perspective.
- The Simpsons: After a whale Lisa cared for winds up dead on the beach, she later finds her two offspring surrounded by sharks. Homer comes in on a boat, armed with a harpoon, but then two eco-activists stop them, stating that one's actual duty is to support all animals and their instincts, which Lisa ends up agreeing with. They end up saving the calves anyway, when Homer falls overboard, becomes prey in their place, and is assisted in protecting himself.
- An episode of The Wild Thornberrys has Eliza protecting a frightened rabbit from a relentless stoat, until she has to save the stoat from a pair of fur-trappers. When Eliza retells her experiences, Nigel teaches her that it's perfectly normal for stoats to hunt rabbits because it's their nature as predators to do so.