Click here to view CMI's position on climate change.
Also Available in:
This article is from
Creation 38(4):43, October 2016

Browse our latest digital issue Subscribe

Cannibal deer!

Eating meat is a lifestyle choice—even for animals



Since God created both humans and animals to eat only plants in the beginning (Genesis 1:29–30), where do meat-eaters come from? One fascinating example of a plant-eater consuming meat comes from reports from hunters in America that whitetail deer were eating animal remains.1

Hunters have noted for some time that deer have been spotted ‘nosing around’ the remains of previously shot and field-dressed deer (commonly called ‘gut piles’). Until recently, hunters generally assumed the deer were just trying to find mushrooms or apples that happened to be nearby.

Researchers were curious and decided to monitor carcasses over three years using trail cameras, and confirmed that deer actually do eat meat from these carcasses.2 Further, some deer have been discovered killing and eating songbirds trapped in netting.3

This study provides further evidence that many normally herbivorous creatures will engage in opportunistic carnivory.4 There are other examples of known herbivores which become active carnivores, hunting animals for food. For example, in New Zealand the kea, a type of parrot, often attacks sheep.5

The evidence shows that animals can move from a herbivorous diet to eating meat without any physical changes to accommodate carnivory. This indicates that many structures which we normally associate with eating plants and seeds can be used effectively as weapons to attack other animals, and animals can move back and forth between these lifestyles as circumstances change. Conversely, many normally-herbivorous creatures have structures associated with carnivory like sharp teeth and claws, such as the bamboo-eating panda—although they have been recorded eating meat as well.5

Observations like these corroborate the biblical account of origins, where all animals were originally plant-eating, and only moved toward a lifestyle of carnivory after the Fall.6 One possibility is that many seemingly carnivorous design features were used for other purposes prior to the Fall. When a creature’s features seem explicitly designed for carnivory, e.g. jellyfish stings with a catapult mechanism,7 God may have pre-programmed them to ‘switch on’ after the Fall, according to His foreknowledge.

God also promises us an eventual return to an Edenic state, where the “wolf shall dwell with the lamb” (Isaiah 11:6).8 Near the end of the Bible, we see that death, disease, suffering and carnivory will all come to an end, because the Curse will be lifted and the Tree of Life will flourish (Revelation 21:4, 22:2–3).9 As Christians we may joyfully look forward to that day!

References and notes

  1. Howlett, D., Carnivorous Deer, outdoorlife .com, accessed 5 May 2016. Return to text.
  2. Mulligan, D., Undercover omnivores espn.go.com, 14 October 2009. Return to text.
  3. Bittel, J., The violence of the lambs: animal vegetarians who dabble in flesh, earthtouchnews.com, 23 January 2015. Return to text.
  4. See creation.com/carnivory. Return to text.
  5. Wild panda spotted eating meat in China, telegraph.co.uk, 30 December 2011. Return to text.
  6. See Sarfati, J., When did animals become carnivorous? creation.com/carnivory-fall, 31 August 2014. Return to text.
  7. Catchpoole, D., Skeptics challenge: a ‘God of love’ created a killer jellyfish? Creation 25(4):34–35, 2003; creation.com/killer-jellyfish. Return to text.
  8. Gurney, R., The carnivorous nature and suffering of animals, J. Creation 18(3):70–75, 2004; creation.com/carniv. Return to text.
  9. Cosner, L. and Bates, G., The new earth: Christ’s victory over the Fall, creation.com/new-earth, 20 April 2014. Return to text.

Helpful Resources

Readers’ comments

James K.
We have no way of knowing if God adapted certain animals we commonly call unclean animals at the time of man’s sin, or whether they naturally adapted as some have done on occasions since. Given the dramatic change and introduction of death and all this entailed (corpses and decay), we could say with some degree of probability, that the change was dramatic and God controlled to meet the need. In the case of more recent ones like this article details, it might be more a sign of the end times, when creation will be in trouble (Romans 8:22; Matthew 24:7). I believe the Kea of New Zealand is interesting in that it was predominately or entirely herbivorous until its habitat was destroyed, and it adapted to a scavenging diet until steps were taken to restore its usual habitat, and it is now slowly returning to its former diet. (Can’t remember where I heard that, though). The Kea has proved that adaptability is not so difficult, although these generally come with consequences. Just look at mankind. Before the flood, no meat in the diet (at least for God’s people), then after the flood certain meat was permitted with restrictions, and look at how dramatically the living ages of man fell as a result.
Paul Price
Your explanation of human ages declining after the Flood makes little sense. You are saying that meat-eating is the reason why lifespans declined after the Flood, but if that’s the case it doesn’t explain why God would have allowed it in the first place. Furthermore, I don’t think science would in any way back up your anti-meat stance here; I know I’ve seen more than one article on the health risks of a vegetarian diet. More than likely, plants are becoming less and less nutritious over time as a result of gradual mutational decay (genetic entropy) as well as other factors, and thus meat eventually became needed (generally speaking) to supplement our diets. Genetic entropy is also the most likely reason why average lifespans began to fall after the Flood: all humanity was brought down to a genetic ‘bottleneck’ and as a result much of the originally-created genetic diversity in humanity was lost.
Dave D.
In giving every green plant for food, It could be that insects were included. Consider the difficulty of an elephant eating large quantities of leaves or grasses without eating quite a few insects in the process. Many insects are designed to live on, or even in green plants for at least part of their life cycle. This could be justification for including them in the broad category of green plants.
Paul Price
That's a good point. I am not sure your point would be sufficient to demonstrate that God intended people or animals to actually seek out insects to eat purposely, but at least it would make sense that in the course of eating plants, eating a few insects along the way would not have been a problem, and because they are not 'nephesh' life, that would not have been a sin before the Fall.
Ken C.
It will be interesting to see what becomes of free will when that Edenic state returns... As CS Lewis states, “Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong, but I can't.” Indeed, if we continue to have free will it is difficult to imagine a world without adversity… Adversity and contentment appear to be two sides of the same coin. In other words they are closely related to each other and cannot be separated, even though they are completely different.
Richard P.
The statement about a panda eating 26 goats is highly interesting, but the footnote points only to another Creation magazine article — which doesn't provide any documentation for this significant claim. I could not find any reference to this incident on the Internet. Would you be able to provide a source?

Thanks very much.
Paul Price
Thank you for bringing this issue to our attention. I have modified my article so as not to reference that unsourced claim, and I have suggested changes be made if necessary to the original article which did not cite its sources there. I also was unable to find the source for that particular anecdote, but there are many modern reports of this behavior coming out of China as well.
Interesting revisiting of the question of herbivorous or carnivores, but isn't there a third possibility, insectivores or invertebrvores? I realize God said the plants and their fruit were "good for food," but eating of insects or other invertebrates would not have violated killing nephsh life. And the large insects found in fossils (20 cm/8 in flies, 76 cm./30 in cockroaches, 1.5 m/5 ft dragonflies and numerous soft and hard shelled invertebrates would be allowed) might have provided a ready form of protein that was not forbidden, and we might be saying, "it taste like crab legs," and might have given reason we could appreciate for Noah taking "those pesky insects" on the ark. I am not saying it "had to be so," but I have never seen anyone consider the possibility.
Paul Price
While that is an interesting thought, the text of Genesis 1:30 strongly suggests that only plants were considered food prior to the Fall:

And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so.

Comments are automatically closed 14 days after publication.