The problem of evil becomes even more troublesome when applied to predators in the natural world, whether lions, alligators, eagles, or sharks. We’re appalled by human evil, but we see a reason for it. God wanted to give us free will in order to love Him. But that means we also have the capacity to choose evil.
It’s different with animals. They don’t have free will and are not moral agents like us. So what good could there possibly be in animal suffering?
We could go for the easy answers: God is all-knowing, so He knows what He’s doing (which is of course true). Or we could say that God didn’t want carnivores and that they came about as the result of the Fall at the beginning of the world.
But let’s explore some possible reasons why God may have intended predators to exist.
Animal suffering is a natural consequence of creating a material world.
That’s St. Thomas Aquinas’ answer. The lion needs to eat the zebra to maintain itself and reach the perfection proper to it. And, of course, it has cubs who need the meat to survive.
Animals without pain would not really be animals.
Many things we observe in the natural world are the result of animals watching out for, and responding to, danger. Without suffering, how would an animal know to eat when it’s hungry or run away from a fire?
If God programmed their brains to always act in a survival manner, but not in response to stimuli, they’d be more like furry, scaly, and feathered robots. Would you enjoy a furry robot dog?
Animals don’t seem to have conscious awareness of their own pain.
They physically feel pain, but they don’t have spiritual souls like us to consciously experience the suffering. We have a tendency to anthropomorphize the pain of animals, acting like they go through the psychological turmoil we do when we suffer.
But what if animals do have conscious awareness of their pain? Then we can only assume that God will compensate them in some way, perhaps by resurrecting them in the next life.
These are just some possibilities. There is no clear Church teaching on this topic. But whatever the case, we know that predators commit no evil when pursuing their prey. Whether God originally intended predators to exist or not, He brings out good by using them to keep ecosystems healthy, so that life can thrive.