Once in a while, a predator may refuse to harm their natural prey or enemy, instead choosing to protect it.
The reasons may vary widely: the two develops kinship to each other, the "prey" is an orphan/has Parental Abandonment, the predator being helpless and the prey comes to help them, etc. The protection may extend to only one individual, to a small group (such as a family), or to the entire species or group. Said protection likely will include protection against the predator's own kind (related to Hunter of Their Own Kind).
This trope is different than Morality Pet in that the decision to become a protector is irrevocable and is likely to invoke a HeelFace Turn on the part of the predator. Said protection may be permanent or temporary depending on whether the predator's intent is to return the Prey back to their family, group, or natural environment. (The intent is always what's best for the prey, yet another difference between this trope and Morality Pet.) Failure to protect the prey will cause anguish to the predator, especially if they have to watch. The younger/more helpless the prey, the more extreme, the more violent the predator will be in protecting them, up to full on Papa Wolf or Mama Bear.
A predator is almost by definition badass, but a predator lacking fear and not even caring if they live or die is both unpredictable and scary. This trope seldom or never involves a sexual attraction/relationship between the two, and the predator may not even like the prey. Predators tend to be solitary hunters, but a Predator turned protector will both accept and solicit assistance in protecting the prey. The conclusive proof that that the trope applies is change: the predator is unable to return to their former ways at the end.
More cynically, any Empire will do this for its new subjects when it is well established simply because they are now taxpayers instead of prey. In another case, a predator may simply try to protect their prey from other predators so that they can have the prey all by themselves.
Supertrope to Androcles' Lion, sister trope to Friendly Neighborhood Vampire. Expect Hitman with a Heart to do this a lot. When applied to hostage situations, this becomes Lima Syndrome. Animal examples will frequently overlap with Carnivore Confusion. Compare Bad Guys Do the Dirty Work where the bad guys saved the good guys from having to Shoot the Dog, often without meaning to help in the first place. Compare also In Love with the Mark when the would-be killer falls in love with the target, Defends Against Their Own Kind where a member of group X protects a member of group Y from other members of group X, and Adopt the Food where they had planned on eating them first.
- Animal Land has Dougen, a tiger who was banished from his fellow tigers for being such a ferocious hunter he almost wiped out the food source for the others, befriend and practically adopt a baby deer. Unfortunately, the deer was killed by another tiger. Dougen killed the other tiger in retaliation—only to realise too late that the latter was his own biological son.
- Gabu from Arashi no Yoru ni is a wolf and his best friend, Mei, is a goat. They form an Odd Friendship and end up running off together to avoid their families, and societies, disdain. For much of the series they're being tracked by Gabu's pack and Gabu does protect Mei from them in his Big Damn Heroes moment
- In Hellsing, Alucard, a vampire, is forced to save humanity from evil Nazi vampires.
- Naruto: the Nine Tailed Fox is originally a gigantic beast that is hostile to human society, but after he's sealed in Naruto's body, he's forced to protect Naruto from within and give him support in dire needs, because if Naruto dies so will he. Eventually Naruto's kindness towards the other tailed beasts, and a mutual hatred of Madara, earns the fox's friendship. He tells Naruto his real name, Kurama, and fights alongside him.
- In Owari no Seraph, Mikaela is constantly visibly fighting the urge to drink human blood (while all other vampires couldn't care less). Despite this instinct, he still avoids killing humans as much as possible, and protects his (human) childhood friend Yuuichirou with his life. He's also seen aiding other humans at times, especially children.
- In A Polar Bear In Love, Polar Bear falls in love with Seal and vows to protect him from harm.
- Ushio and Tora: Tora is an extremely powerful youkai, but just about the only thing that prevents him from going on a murderous rampage is Ushio being able to wield the Beast Spear. But as time goes by, Tora finds increasingly implausible reasons to rescue Ushio when he doesn't have the spear at hand, such as The Only One Allowed to Defeat You (or eat you, rather) or the monster eating Ushio mocking Tora.
- Heart the Tyrannosaurus rex, the protagonist of You Are Umasou, is saddled with this role after the titular baby Ankylosaurus imprints on him. He still considers eating Umasou even after this point, but chooses to regard him as family rather than food in the end.
- Preacher: Cassidy is a vampire, but he discovered any kind of blood will do and only drinks blood off people trying to kill him, and happily joins up with Jesse and Tulip, even killing a vampire who was waaaay too much into the gothic vampire thing (including killing a Vampire Vannabe). He is an extremely self-centered asshole behind the jovial exterior, and has nearly a century of backstabbing people through his own weakness or pursuit of hedonism.
- While Venom's characterization largely depends on who the host is, for much of its history the symbiote was characterized as a ravenous predator that couldn't care less about guilt or innocence and seeks to corrupt its host. However, in Brian Michael Bendis' Guardians of the Galaxy it's cleansed of its bloodlust and becomes fully heroic; and in Venom: Space Knight, Mike Costa's Venom, and Donny Cates' Venom it struggles to suppress its recurring dark urges in order to protect the innocent.
- Donny Cates' run reveals this to be the case for the Agents of the Cosmos introduced by Bendis in Guardians of the Galaxy, the symbiotes having originated as living weapons created by the dark god Knull only to turn on him and set out to atone by protecting the cosmos they once terrorized.
- One somewhat common plot in Zootopia fanfics is a savage Nick (a red fox) becoming very protective of Judy (a rabbit), for reasons ranging from previous scent markings to Heroic Willpower while his rational mind is not quite gone yet. Typically, this ensues when the pellet-for-blueberry swap plan doesn't work.
- Not a case of prey to consume and more enemies to be destroyed, but that was the MO for the first two Godzillas in The Bridge canon until the third one, the grown up Godzilla Junior. Partially due to being a Gentle Giant and being raised by an adoptive human mother, he becomes one of humanity's most dedicated protectors against aliens and other kaiju for years. By comparison, his predecessors destroyed multiple cities and were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people.
- In Monsters, Inc., Sulley (a monster whose job is scaring children) chose to be a protector to Boo (a human child). His objective was to protect Boo and return her to her home and family. His reactions upon "seeing" Boo crushed was a Shout Out to Feed the Kitty (below). In the film's climax, Sulley went full Papa Wolf to protect Boo. He even said "Nothing else matters."
- Ice Age: Diego (a saber-toothed cat) helped Manny (a mammoth) and his 'herd' to return a human child to his father, despite having been ordered to deliver the child to Diego's pride to be eaten. Although Diego had no particular love for the child, he did act as a protector, though more out of loyalty to Manny's 'herd' than anything else.
- In An American Tail, Tiger (a cat) and Fievel Mousekewitz (a mouse) had become friends. In the sequel, An American Tail: Fievel Goes West, Tiger chose the role of a Protector, directly opposing other cats (all more badass than Tiger) to save Fievel, his family, and the other mice in town. To do so, Tiger took a level by learning how to be a dog. In the film's climax, Tiger tried to stop the killing of all the town's mice, and what started out as a last stand turned into a curb-stomp battle as first the training kicked in, then Tiger entered unstoppable rage and became a one-cat army. This is a milder form of the trope since Tiger never sought to harm Fievel (or apparently any other mouse), but cats are predators of mice, and Tiger opposed other cats to protect mice, so the trope definitely applies.
- The protagonist of Dreamworks' How to Train Your Dragon constructs a weighted-net launcher that successfully knocks a dreaded Night Fury dragon out of the sky during a dragon raid. Hiccup ventures into the hills to find the fallen dragon and slay it. Upon finding his objective, however, Hiccup takes mercy on the creature, and actually works to hide it from his fellow Vikings.
- In Brad Bird's The Iron Giant, when Hogarth encounters the titular robot, he finds out that it's docile and childlike; this is suggested to be the result of a dent in its head upon landing on Earth. However, once the robot goes into Papa Wolf mode, it deploys enough advanced weaponry to eradicate a battalion with frightening ease. The director's commentary mentions that the robot was meant to be a military strike probe, designed to eradicate or decimate resistance as a precursor to an Alien Invasion. Fortunately for everyone, The Power of Friendship restores the robot to its Gentle Giant mode, whereupon it makes a Heroic Sacrifice to save the townsfolk.
- In The Lion King (1994), Simba the lion fiercely protects his surrogate parents, Pumbaa the warthog and Timon the meerkat, from the hungry lioness Nala. In fact Timon, initially reluctant to adopt the orphaned Simba due to him being a predator, changes his mind after he realizes he can exploit this trope.
- In Madagascar, Alex the lion's friendship with Marty the zebra is threatened when Alex's Horror Hunger kicks in after they arrive into the wild. However, when Marty is attacked by a pack of fossa (Madagascar's native predators), Alex comes to his rescue in a Big Damn Heroes moment.
- In Finding Nemo, Nigel the pelican is, of course, a fish-eater. However, he has regular conversations with the fish living in an aquarium in a dentist's office and is quite touched by Nemo's story. Upon learning that Marlin is Nemo's father searching for his son, Nigel rescues him and Dory first from the beak of a fellow pelican, then from a flock of seagulls.
Nigel: (to Nemo) Sorry if I ever took a snap at you. Fish gotta swim; birds gotta eat.
- As with Lion King, the humans fleeing to safety in Daybreakers quickly realize when the sympathetic vampire hematologist Edward hides them in his car from some other vampires who are hunting them that it's a good idea to enlist him as an ally. To this end, one of them goes so far as to donate some of her blood in a cup and insist that he drink it to keep his hunger at bay. They also are later shown to be running their human-smuggling (and vampire-cure-seeking) operation under the protection of a vampire Senator who's got a similar deal worked out with them.
- Schindler's List: An extreme example heavily based on real events during WWII. Oskar Schindler started as a businessman and Nazi Party who used Jewish laborers as virtual slaves to manufacture war materials. His original goal was to make money for himself and support the Nazi war machine. When he discovered that his Jewish employees were slated for death, he did everything in his power to save as many as he could. At the end of the movie, what should have been his moment of triumph for saving more than 1000 Jews instead saw him breaking down in sorrow and shame that he didn't save more, that he still had anything (money or possessions) to his name (by which he could have saved more).
- This also gets inverted somewhat by his The Hunter Becomes the Hunted situation after the war; in gratitude for his saving their lives, the Jews help get him past the Allies who are out rounding up Nazis without his having to answer too many awkward questions. Though the film doesn't go into detail about this, historically, those Jews helped smuggle him all the way out of Europe to Argentina.
- Maleficent: The titular characters plan on killing the princess Aurora on her Dangerous 16th Birthday, but by the end of the film she becomes Aurora's guardian.
- Demonstrated while being subverted in the first 3 Terminator films.
- In the first film, the T-800 (the titular Terminator) was a cold, emotionless, killing machine whose sole existence was to kill Sarah Connor and thus prevent John Connor from being born and creating the resistance in the future.
- In the second film however, the T-800, while still emotionless, was now a protector of the now-born John Connor and his sole purpose was to protect him from the more dangerous T-1000.
- Fully Justified in the third film as the T-850 reveals that he killed John Connor in the year 2032. During that time though, he had been reprogrammed by Kate Brewster (John Connor's wife) to prepare and protect John and Kate from the inevitable Judgement Day.
- In King Kong (1933), Ann Darrow is intended to be a Human Sacrifice to the eponymous giant ape. However, he is mesmerized by her beauty and becomes her protector, defending her from the dinosaurs and other monstrous beasts of Skull Island.
- In Kong: Skull Island Kong is explicitly stated to protect the island's human inhabitants from the other predators, most notably the Skullcrawlers. And unlike prior incarnations there's no mention of offering him the occasional human sacrifice.
- In Snowpiercer Curtis Everett plays this role for Basile, whose mother he killed so that he could eat him because of the dearth of food during the first month.
- While hunting the Indominus rex in Jurassic World, Hoskins forces Owen to use his pack of raised raptors (Blue, Charlie, Echo, and Delta) to track down the rampaging dinosaur alongside a team of InGen special ops. After finding it, the Indominus rex manages to persuade the raptors to turn on their human handlers (due to said Indominus rex being part-raptor), and all hell breaks loose. However, after Hoskins is killed by Delta, the raptors come to their senses and turn on the Indominus in order to protect Parental Substitute Owen from it.
- Short film The Golden Fish has a cat enter an apartment, where it sees a goldfish flopping about on a counter after it leaped out of its bowl. The cat picks the fish up, and puts it back in the goldfish bowl. (What makes this amazing is that it was done with real animals, a real cat and a real goldfish.)
- Harry Potter: Snape, as a Death Eater, found to his horror that his own actions marked the woman he loved (Lily Evans Potter) for death, causing a HeelFace Turn. His actions were not enough to save her, so despite hating her son, Harry Potter (whose father, James Potter, had made Snape miserable at Hogwarts), Snape acted through the entire series to save Harry from all harm. Note, however, that protecting Harry doesn't preclude Snape from treating him like crap the whole time.
- Twilight: The Cullens, a coven of vampires, are 'vegetarians' (do not drink human blood) due to choice and a treaty with the local werewolves and even act to protect a human (Bella), thus fitting (if loosely) under this trope.
- Animorphs: One story has Tobias struggle with his dual hawk/human nature, trying to attack a baby rabbit but crashing into the ground each time. In the end, he kills the mother (from the hawk's viewpoint this is beyond stupid, as she could have produced more food) but watches over the babies. In another, Cassie learns of the location of skunk kits (their mother was hit by a Yeerk weapon) when Tobias says he caught and ate one. He ends up helping to guard them until the mother comes out of the vet clinic.
- In Arcia Chronicles, Roman summons a lynx from the woods and binds its being to Prince Stefan, turning it into his supernatural protector. When Stefan is killed, the lynx transfers its loyalty to Gerika, his beloved.
- In Mrs Frisby And The Rats Of Nimh, Mrs. Frisby the mouse saves her family using advice received from the Great Owl, whose usual diet includes mice. He's later revealed to be an ally of the rats, which he'd also normally be expected to eat.
- Alluded to in Children of the Night. One of the psivamps has been fighting his need to feed, and the others realize once he heads back to their base that he's given in. He tells them a folk tale about a lion cub adopted by a herd of sheep, who grew up thinking he was a sheep until the day a pack of wolves attacked the flock. The others figure he's gone over to their side, he doesn't bother telling them that the story ends with the lion killing all the wolves. (He'd chowed down on a couple rapists so he could act as The Mole.)
- In A Brother's Price, Jerin's grandfather Alannon was kidnapped by enemy spies. This ensured his survival when the castle he had lived in was conquered. Since the enemy spies wanted a husband, they never turned him in to their superiors, but married him and did everything in their power to make him happy.
- Subverted in the Hurog series, Jakoven reminisces about how he comforted a boy who had been raped and whose parents had been killed by Jakoven's own armies. However, when this happens, it is pretty clear that he sexually abused the boy, and has been keeping the (now adult) man as his sex slave ever since.
- In Terry Pratchett's Hogfather the Tooth Fairy protects children by making sure that bad wizards can't get their teeth, which would give them the power to control the children through magic. However, originally the Tooth Fairy was *The* Boogeyman, who came to care about the children he frightened.
- On Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, Angel is a vampire who is out to save humans from vampires and other nasties.
- In later seasons of Buffy, Spike develops a crush on Buffy, who is the natural predator of his species. As a result, he stops rooting for her death and starts protecting her, oftentimes against her will. He also starts acting as something of an older brother to Buffy's sister, to the point where Buffy drops her off at Spike's when she needs a babysitter - because the evil monster that lives on human blood will protect her. Unlike Angel, Spike is hilariously conflicted about his role as the protector, going as far as to demand Dawn "take it back" when she says she feels safe with him.
- In the Series 8 Doctor Who episode "Into the Dalek", the eponymous Dalek (nicknamed "Rusty") decides to protect the other sentient species in the universe and destroying its Dalek brethren after seeing true beauty. It's just a temporary glitch that the Doctor manages to fix, resulting in the death of most of the people on the ship.
- On True Blood, after much of the world's vampire population becomes infected with Hep-V, which causes them to become violent, Jessica Hamby vows to protect the Bellefleur family as her penance for previously killing three of Andy's daughters.
- Forever Knight. An 800 year old vampire named Nick Knight is a police detective protecting the citizens of Toronto. He seeks redemption for all of the human beings he's killed over the years.
- Metroid Fusion: The SA-X, which had spent the entire game hunting Samus, shows up at the last second to defend her from a very aggressive Omega Metroid.
- In the The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim DLC Dawnguard, Serana is a Friendly Neighbourhood Vampire and a Dawnguard-aligned Dragonborn can easily persuade her to side against Clan Volkihar. This is particularly noticeable since at least two members of the Dawnguard want her dead. From the vanilla game, Paarthurnax is a dragon that had a HeelFace Turn millennia ago and is very protective of the races of Tamriel. It's not acknowledged by those races though as especially the Blades want him dead no matter what since he IS a dragon.
- Rudy Dewclaw from Bill Holbrook's Kevin & Kell is a young wolf, who'd usually prey upon herbivores. However, when Lindesfarne, a hedgehog adopted by his stepfather, is menaced by a trio of felines, Rudy leaps to her defense. It's a case of pack loyalty overriding the food chain.
- Forest Hill: Benni starts as The Bully and a potential rapist who attacks Tanya and severely injures Kaleb. When it is discovered that he is being abused by his father, Kaleb's mother takes him as a foster son and he becomes an extremely protective brother to Kaleb and friend of Tanya.
- Pixie and Brutus: An eagle who carries Pixie off decides to adopt her. However, she still has to scold one of her eaglets for attempting to peck a bite out of his new "sister."
- Soviet animated short "Wolf and calf". A wolf steals a baby calf but finds him to scrawny to eat and decides to first fatten him up. This soon evolves into becoming an adopted father for the calf, up to protecting him from his carnivorous neighbours eager to "share" the calf.
- In Feed the Kitty (a classic Chuck Jones short), Marc Anthony (a bulldog) sought to protect Pussyfoot (a kitten). When it appeared Pussyfoot was killed, Marc Anthony suffered grievously. In Feline Frame-Up and Cat Feud (two additional shorts involving these characters), Marc Anthony went Papa Wolf to protect Pussyfoot from another cat, proving that his protection extended only to Pussyfoot. In these cases, tropers may reasonably argue whether Pussyfoot was a Morality Pet only instead.
- Frequently happens in many old chaser cartoons like Tom and Jerry and Tweety Bird, where they might help a dog that beats ups the cat in return.
- There are also plenty of episodes where Tom and Jerry, and sometimes even Tom, Jerry and Spike decide a mutual truce, that usually won't last til the end of the episode.
- Played with in The Simpsons, in that the predator was a protector at first: Santa's Little Helper (the Simpson family dog) runs away from home and gets picked up by Mr. Burns & trained to be one of his new attack hounds. Later, Bart is on Burns' property looking for his missing dog and Burns releases the hounds, now led by SLH. SLH leaps at Bart, but as he's leaping in Slo Mo he remembers all the good things Bart did for him in the past. SLH drops, then turns to his fellow hounds and growls, protecting Bart from them.
- In Avatar: The Last Airbender, during Azulon's purging of the dragons, he told his son Iroh to kill the last two. He doesn't really want to do it, so he pretends to have killed them while he actually hid them in the Sun Tribe's territory.
- TazMania: A variation occurs between Taz and Wendell T. Wolf. After Taz eats and then spits out Wendell, Wendell decides that Taz should become his protector, only for Taz to want nothing to do with Wendell.
- In the Disney short Lambert the Sheepish Lion, Lambert the lion cub is raised by a ewe. At the end of the short, when the ewe is attacked by a wolf, Lambert gets dangerous and rescues his surrogate mother from the predator.
- The Animated Adaptation of Free Willy has the titular orca being accompanied by a dolphin and a sea lion.
- Season 5 of Samurai Jack: Ashi was raised as a cold-blooded assassin to kill Jack, but instead ends up protecting him and keeping him alive throughout the season to the point where it even brings him back to his original confident self from the earlier seasons.
- A lioness adopted not one but two oryx calves.
- Livestock guardian dogs are trained to be this to their herds.
- There was a case in India where two puppies fell into a pit and were protected and cared for by a cobra for two days. Whether the third picture also qualifies is more debatable.
- Technically, any person who takes care of a pet that belongs to a species consumed by humans (such as a pet rabbit, guinea pig, chicken or duck) counts as this.
- Here's a story of a cat who, rather than chow down on some vulnerable newly-hatched ducklings, took them in as her young. The cat had just given birth to kittens and was in maternal mode when she encountered the ducklings, so she considered them her young to protect as well rather than a snack. There was concern about what would happen as that narrow maternal-instinct window receded but a year on they still get along just fine.
- Here's a video of a female tiger raising some piglets as her own cubs.
- Orphaned litters of domestic mice or hamsters can be fostered to nursing mother rats in a pinch. Rats normally kill and eat smaller rodents, but will nurse and care for non-rat pups if introduced with care. Can become a subversion if the non-rat pups aren't separated from their foster mother as soon as weaning is possible, as mother rats also cull and eat pups that fail to grow as large as their siblings.