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 Designated 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, and predation is part of nature. This puts predatory animals in a more sympathetic light — they might be portrayed as heroes, 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.
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. When not hunting or protecting territory/family, they might even be less aggressive than 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 walrusand 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.
- 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 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 HeelFace 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).
- 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 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. Shere Khan the tiger is villainous due to not respecting the Law of the Jungle.
- 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.
- In Burgess Bedtime Stories, predation is typically acknowledged as being necessary for survival, but killing for sport or in excess is portrayed negatively.
- 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 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 .
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 to her father, he teaches her that it's perfectly normal for stoats to hunt rabbits because it's their nature as predators to do so.
- The Simpsons: After a whale Lisa cared for winds up dead on the beach, she later find 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.