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In this world, a number of intelligent, sapient creatures exist. They do not have especially complex societies or technology; they live as hunter-gatherers and nomads.

The predator species isn't completely solitary. They live alone unless they have young to look after. Predators hold meetings at certain times of the year to conduct rudimentary trade, find a mate, and so on. Communication is done out-of-person by leaving messages in designated spots, which predators may check from time to time. Mothers will teach skills such as tool use and hunting to their children.

The problem is that the predators are obligate carnivores, and they've got to eat the other species, which are equally intelligent and sapient. The carnivores respect their living prey and have rules to prevent excess killing. They preserve meat in order to kill less often. But they've still got to kill members of the other species somehow.

Tigers have to kill at least once every two weeks. Let's say that with meat preservation, these intelligent carnivores can stretch that out to four weeks. Even with that lowered kill rate, why wouldn't the preyed-on species have any enmity or distrust towards the predator species?

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    $\begingroup$ BTW, I don't think meat preservation is going to help. Ultimately, you need so many calories to survive, and preservation doesn't create those out of thin air. Preservation is only useful if you can't eat a whole critter in a sitting, which isn't going to be an issue if the predators are at all cooperative (which you'd almost think they'd have to be, in order to have preservation in the first place). $\endgroup$ – Matthew Nov 15 at 20:59
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    $\begingroup$ Also, if you haven't already, check out the required reading. $\endgroup$ – Matthew Nov 15 at 21:00
  • $\begingroup$ @Matthew - Thanks. I'm trying to go for more of a "predation is natural" approach. The predators live alone if they don't have young to look after. Edited that in. $\endgroup$ – byusingoursite Nov 15 at 21:14
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    $\begingroup$ Do you have no non-sentient animals at all in your world then? $\endgroup$ – Pelinore Nov 16 at 0:49
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    $\begingroup$ many humans don't hate human predators, awe, admiration, evenrespect are often in play instead. $\endgroup$ – John Nov 16 at 6:08

15 Answers 15

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The most obvious thing is to have your society structured in a way that predation is cooperative. Some ideas:

Being eaten is voluntary

Allowing yourself to be eaten is a form of suicide. Some individuals may just be too depressed and desperate for it all to end. For others — crippled, extremely sick, or just old — being eaten might be seen as a way to die with dignity; one last way you can make yourself useful.

Capital punishment

What better way to get rid of dangerous criminals?

It's eugenics

This can go very, very dark, but it's also essentially true in the natural world. Maybe your prey's society wants to rid themselves of certain elements. Maybe they're just fatalistic and feel that only the strongest of their own deserve to live. (Christopher Anvil's Advance Agent may give you some inspiration.)

Predators are seen as gods

Human history has plenty of examples of human sacrifice you could use for inspiration. Sacrifices could be willing, or otherwise (the latter are usually prisoners of war). This could work especially well if the predators do something for the prey in return, besides just "honoring them". Maybe there are "good" predators and "bad" predators, and the prey see being eaten by "bad" predators as horrific; the "good" predators could protect them from being eaten by the "bad" predators.

It's a fetish

There are humans who, given the chance, might voluntarily be eaten by lions. Given all the strange things that give people a rush, it's not hard to imagine that your prey species have somehow gotten to where some percentage of individuals want to be eaten.

That's just the way of things

If your prey is suitably fatalistic, maybe they just don't hold it against the predators. While not exactly the same thing, check out how the "reds" see themselves in Endless Blue. The down side of this approach is that your prey species is likely to come across as depressing.

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    $\begingroup$ Nice range of answers. I'd perhaps also add "Thin the herd" as a kind of species altruism. Perhaps there is history of extinction crisis from resource depletion and overpopulation. E.g there are a few famous studies on wolf vs deer population and preventing mass deer starvation due to overpopulation. $\endgroup$ – vinchenso Nov 16 at 14:58
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    $\begingroup$ Great answer - the "Predators are seen as gods" bit can be expanded to religious ideas in general - maybe the predators aren't the gods, but faith decrees they should be given a "tithe", or that on certain holy days predators are welcome to prey on the populace (or a specific sector of it) in exchange of not being bothered in the rest of the month. Additionally, there are several RL examples of offering (animal) sacrifice as a means of repentance or celebration - even when the sacrificial animal isn't dedicated to a god (e.g. see scapegoat) $\endgroup$ – G0BLiN Nov 17 at 8:54
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    $\begingroup$ Another option for the list may be some kind of rite of passage ("in order to be a man, you must brave the perils of the cariniforest"), ceremonial conflict resolution ("we'll settle this clan dispute by 'the test of the ferocious predator'") or even some extreme form of competitive sports - these less depressing ideas fit nicely into the "that's just the way of things category" $\endgroup$ – G0BLiN Nov 17 at 8:58
  • $\begingroup$ As for "That's just the way of things": another example is the people of the NGL in "Hunter x Hunter". When nature rises up and starts eating people, they accept it as part of nature as per their customs. $\endgroup$ – Mast Nov 18 at 12:47
  • $\begingroup$ Another "just the way of things" mindset (but non-fatalistic!) might be "better to be eaten than to die from cancer". There is a parallel to the Viking warrior mindset of "I want to die honorably in battle, not dishonorably on the straw", though of course the prey wouldn't think of honor. $\endgroup$ – toolforger Nov 18 at 14:30
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Inspired by John's comment:

many humans don't hate human predators, awe, admiration, even respect are often in play instead.

I think the most interesting development builds on this. Interpret "predators" here in a broad sense, thinking of all the places the word is used including sexual (serial rapists), economic (predatory lenders, predatory journals), etc.

This comic comes to mind:

enter image description here

How does the "I am going to eat you party" wolf get elected? He convinces his base that they're not the ones he's going to eat. How does the CEO who repeatedly commits sexual harassment and assault have the support of his wife and other elite women? He convinces them they're not the ones he'll harm, and that the ones he does harm were responsible for what happened to them. Etc.

All of these principles carry over to literal predation.

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  • $\begingroup$ Wouldn't the prey eventually realise what was happening, though, and decide to fight back against the predators? Clever solution, by the way. $\endgroup$ – byusingoursite Nov 17 at 14:28
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    $\begingroup$ @byusingoursite: Do humans who constantly cheer for billionaires and such eventually realise? In my experience, no. They keep convincing themselves that they're on the same side as these people and that those who suffer had it coming, e.g. workers who they lay off or whose health insurance they take away were lazy or grifters or otherwise had it coming. This pattern generally works as long as you can bound the portion of the prey you harm so bad that they can no longer support you, and segment them into identities that let large groups think they're exempt. $\endgroup$ – R.. Nov 17 at 15:54
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    $\begingroup$ That's not to say it can't end, but it requires high levels of education, access to information, and channels to organize. Presumably the predators would interact with the ruling class of the prey to prevent this kind of situation from arising. Like seriously, look at how Epstein did it. This is your model. $\endgroup$ – R.. Nov 17 at 16:02
  • $\begingroup$ Such a predator can actually be nice to most of their prey... people (enough, anyway) are most certainly self-centered enough to support someone that does awful things as long as a) they benefit, and b) they convince themselves they will never be the ones to whom the awful things happen. Just look at domestic animals in our world; we feed them, house them, keep them safe from other predators... Given the choice between being pampered and then humanely killed, or living in constant struggle, some will choose the former. $\endgroup$ – Matthew Nov 18 at 16:21
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    $\begingroup$ Like in that meme: 'I never thought leopards would eat MY face,' sobs woman who voted for the Leopards Eating People's Faces Party. $\endgroup$ – Kreiri Nov 18 at 17:20
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The "prey" run an integrated, warlike society.

The prey are far better equipped to run a complicated civilization. Especially if they're omnivores, they're well equipped to develop technology, start farming, and construct villages. Semi-solitary obligate carnivores probably won't do those things.

However, powerful carnivores would be a fantastic asset in war, especially if they're substantially larger or more powerful than the prey. If your prey species are particularly warlike, the'd likely form a society in which they cooperate with the predators to fight against other prey groups. Humans, historically, have had few qualms about feeding their enemies to predators purely for amusement; forming an integrated society that fights to both enrich itself with goods and slaves and find food for its carnivorous members would serve the best interests of both predators and "prey".

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  • $\begingroup$ Reading this sparked a recognition of the conditions of feudalism. Serfs being exploited by the nobility - men who train for war and are well-equipped for such, alternately ruling over the serfs or going on campaign where they pillage and plunder the countryside. Developing civilization may be the purview of the prey, but prey are also interested in outfitting their local predators with the best equipment with the understanding that they will prevent other predators from coming within the territory and hopefully mostly prey upon neighboring territories. $\endgroup$ – pluckedkiwi Nov 18 at 14:12
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Because they worshiped the predators.

In Start Trek: Discovery Saru is a Kelpien from the planet Kaminar where his species had biologically evolved to be the prey of the Ba'ul. The story of how this came to be happened over thousands of years, but Kelpiens could "sense" the coming of death through a specially evolved organ, and they met their fate as an honor.

Cultures engaging in human sacrifice could also be a predator/prey arrangement, where the prey simply believes their sacrifice will grant them some greater reward. Suicide bombers are often recruited with this same argument. The clan promises money and protection to the family for the volunteer's sacrifice. Their tribe is so poor and destitute that they give their life to provide for their family. This can be extended to a predator/prey arrangement as well.

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  • $\begingroup$ I clicked this question to look for this answer. $\endgroup$ – beppe9000 Nov 17 at 21:29
  • $\begingroup$ I clicked this question to look for Deep Space Nine's "Captive Pursuit" better known as "I am Tosk". (get that guy at a cafe table with Groot and Batman). Nice to know Discovery is so original! $\endgroup$ – Harper - Reinstate Monica Nov 18 at 2:39
  • $\begingroup$ I wondered if Start Trek was some fandom-generated entertainment, like Star Wreck, but I see it is just a typo; I have insufficient rep to correct it. $\endgroup$ – Andrew Morton Nov 18 at 10:15
  • $\begingroup$ @AndrewMorton It's about how a journey of 1,000 light-years begins with a single step function. $\endgroup$ – WBT Nov 23 at 22:49
  • $\begingroup$ @WBT Lol, but I think it is more about how the seventh step was next to the "t" key. $\endgroup$ – Andrew Morton Nov 23 at 23:41
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The predators do not kill their prey.

These predators are more like robbers than murderers.

Suppose I am a prey animal. I accumulate resources in my body through my efforts and good luck. I am found by a predator who takes some of my resources. I am left alive, poorer, but able to regroup and begin accumulating resources once again.

This is predation more like robbery - the robber takes my wallet but I live on. Maybe he will rob me again someday if I don't see him coming first. Or like herbivory - the herbivore browses off some twigs and leaves, but the plant has more and regenerates what it has lost.

An herbivore might have a philosophical outlook to losses of this sort, and regard loss of regenerable bodily resources in the same way as loss to illness or bad weather or bad luck: a thing that happens, and you move on.

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    $\begingroup$ So like the Maasai who often consume blood & milk from their cattle rather than butcher them for their meat or the Mongols who did the same with their horses? so more 'predatory' parasites rather than actual predators? $\endgroup$ – Pelinore Nov 16 at 17:14
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The prey have no will or ability to self control population, and know and accept that predation is the only way to avoid overpopulation and mass starvation. Perhaps there was a painful time in the past when they multiplied to the point that a large percentage died all at once.

The might have a biological imperative to reproduce, either because the body does it automatically, or because they die or go mad if they don't. Or just hormones that override any self control. (examples include Vulcan Pon-Farr, Tribbles, and Moties.)

It might be accomplished by lottery, or by granting the predator a license for a number of kills.

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  • $\begingroup$ or even if they can mostly control their reproduction, they produce enormous litters. imperfect birth control + litters of "huge" might still keep you well above replacement rate. $\endgroup$ – Jay Kominek Nov 18 at 16:32
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Because it strengthens your species.

In order for a population to remain fit and strong it needs either a way to remove the weaker and sicker members of the society or a way to care for them.

They can only care for them in a situation where you have an excess of resources otherwise the less fit members of the society consume those resources. This leads to competition within your species for resources and ultimately infighting.

A classic example of this is the wolf/deer relationship. In situations where the wolf has been eradicated deer populations rise out of control and eventually destroy their habitat. They also become weaker as a species as the slower and less fit can survive. Reintroduce the wolf, you reduce the deer population, the surviving individuals are the faster and stronger and the habitat has a chance to return to balance.

If your prey population can see this relationship they can fit the predator species into a context wider than the deaths of a few members of their own species.

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  • $\begingroup$ sounds fairly like what the Nazis did. $\endgroup$ – meaninglessname Nov 18 at 8:17
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Besides how healthy it is to not let your population out of control you need a reason why the prey would subject them to this type of culling. They would want to limit the risk to themselves if there isnt a solid reason why they would fully accept getting hunted.

You could make it a rite of passage. Prey that comes of age will have to prove their sexual maturity by joining in their equivalent of the spanish bull running except getting caught means getting eaten with lots of ritualistic elements. The males especially would be encouraged to take risks to show their suitability as a mate to the females. The females would be no less encouraged to join to show that their children would be strong enough to survive the ritual as well. Remember that survival of the fittest is about you getting children who in turn are strong enough to survive until they have their own.

Prey would as a natural consequence get lots and lots of children, and the right to get them would be a sought after commodity. Prey that is nurturing children wouldnt be joining in these rituals, which are essentially mating rituals. But once their children are grown they'll join in the rituals again risking their life to prove they have what it takes to get more children to prospective mates. Naturally this makes geriatric care a small worry in this society, any prey that reaches an old enough age to stop going to the rituals could be valued as teachers and possibly leaders (or go for one last hurrah feeling the excitement of the ritual before being eaten).

The predators would ritualize this as much as possible to make sure the prey does not retaliate. Eating the parents and children of prey might be punisheable, and only chasing the prey that joins this ritual is allowed to be eaten.

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I've seen this addressed in

The Cockroaches of Stay More

Where all the characters are US-southern cockroaches, humanized but otherwise mostly realistic. For a sentient species they are fairly far along on the quantity-versus-quality side of the r/K reproductive strategy spectrum. One bit I remember is a regular family circle where the dead are memorialized, along with their cause of death, all too often "something he et" and sometimes, sadly, "something et him."

So, high infant and child mortality, where predation is just one of many causes and accepted fatalistically.

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  • $\begingroup$ What is K/r spectrum? $\endgroup$ – hkBst Nov 17 at 15:43
  • $\begingroup$ I garbled the reference a bit, was trying to refer to $\endgroup$ – arp Nov 17 at 17:01
  • $\begingroup$ en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/R/K_selection_theory --- will fix, thanks. $\endgroup$ – arp Nov 17 at 17:02
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The prey might be intelligent, but that doesn't (at least in fiction) require that they:

  1. value their own lives
  2. experience fear of death (or even pain?)
  3. experience fear in general
  4. be capable of "hate"

with any of that missing, it seems like they might be able to get along just fine with creatures that eat them. they could realize intellectually that they'd be better off if their species wasn't eaten, but just... not be worried about it. in the same way i can explain to most people how they'd be better off if they operated a strict household budget that involved saving more money and borrowing less, and they agree with me, but then just don't do it, and never worry about it.

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The prey are the philosophical equivalent of Earth's Buddhists, or in other words, they would spin it as:

Why would the prey automatically hate the predator?

If you look at things in general realistically, without any wishful thinking or pink lenses, life cannot help but be nasty like that – we all consume and destroy something every day that we live, whether we want to or not. We turn oxygen into CO2 by merely breathing, despite it being poisonous to some organisms (including ourselves). In fact, according to current understanding, oxygen was poisonous to the original life on Earth. And no matter what you think of eating meat right now, the fact that we exist to consider it means that a lot of meat was eaten by our ancestors, in a very long chain of systematic killing and pain.

One can either accept that and understand the circumstances each of us are in, or take the easy way out and let one's emotions turn to anger and hate.

In Buddhism, there's a concept known as dukkha, which basically means that suffering is the natural and unescapable fate of all life (as conditioned, individual beings, but that's beside the point). This does not have to be taken religiously either, as you can find similar ideas from many other schools of philosophy; absurdism, nihilism, stoicism, to name just a few. There's even antinatalism, a school of thought that considers it would have been "better" to not have been born at all.

Note that these ideas do not have to mean that one does not value attempts to minimize or do away with suffering, nor do they prevent the will to fight back, that depends entirely on the philosophy in particular. One can fight back, but without hatred or judgement. Many Buddhist martial arts schools are built on this kind of thinking.

Take your pick from some of these philosophies, or even better – make up your own!

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Seems that your plot requires the prey to be sapient, but then the reader may wonder why there are little or no non-sapient creatures.

That said, since neither of your species (obviously) is human, they don’t have to have human emotions and attitudes.

There could be a collective symbiosis—but I’ll stop there, as other answers have already provided several possibilities for that.

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Your prey are sentient Tribbles

Meet the humble Eatsalottus. It's a strange creature, in that it is both sentient, but breeds extremely rapidly and has a lifespan of only a single year, factors that are normally not found in sentient creatures. In the distant past, a plague nearly wiped out all the Eatsalotti because their rapid expansion caused overpopulation, making them extremely vulnerable to disease, especially once they came to realize that leaving dead bodies all over the place isn't the smartest thing to do.

Enter the Niceivore, a sentient predator that would rather not kill things if it didn't have to. By inviting Niceivores into their lands, the Eatsalottus finally had a way to get rid of all those dead bodies laying around everywhere. They don't hate the Niceivores because they're actually grateful! Nobody is still around who was there for the Great Plague, but their oral stories help share the knowledge that without the Niceivores eating their dead and killing the sick every now and then, the Eatsalottus is surely doomed.

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(Except idea, that the eaten individuals are from some reasons anyway undesired like in capital punishment or eugenics)

The predator specie provides something in return

For example, the predator specie protects its prey from other predators. Not even because of any noble intent, but it is highly territorial and simply hates idea of its livestock being eaten. (as that's fantasy, the thing given in return could be of some supernatural sort, like serving as source of some magic ingredients)

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Protection

There are worse predators around who'll kill you more brutally, painfully and/or randomly. So the Predators are our protectors; they guard and protect us - and all we have to do in return for this benevolent protection, is to let them eat our old, infirm, sick, injured and/or criminals. (...and maybe a monthly quota if that's not enough.)

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