Can foxes be domesticated? If so, how

DomesticationFrom wild Silver fox to the tame domestic animal

The domestic dog has evolved from tamed wolves over the centuries. A research team from Siberia has proven over a period of 60 years that it is also possible to tame foxes.

In the beginning there was the question of how a wild wolf could become a tame pet. In the early 1950s, the Russian biologist Dmitri Beljajew decided to try the experiment to find out which biological mechanisms are effective in taming. The scientists had to proceed very carefully and under the pretext that they wanted to improve the fur structure of the foxes. Because genetic research was banned in the Soviet Union at the time. That is why the experiment started in 1953 on a fur farm in Akademgorodok, a small village near Novosibirsk.

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The initial breeding attempts did not bring any visible success. The biologist Ludmila Trut was confronted with aggressive-looking silver foxes that growled and bared their teeth when she approached the cage. But already four generations and ten years later, something amazing happened that the biologist had not expected. From one day to the next, a male young animal greeted the researcher with a wagging tail. This is how foxes greet each other, but usually they don't do that to humans.

Only breed the most trusting foxes

The Russian researchers confirmed this by following a simple principle in breeding: The breeding was based on the subjective characteristic of friendliness towards people. That means, only the tamest and most trusting foxes of every generation were allowed to mate.

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Each subsequent generation brought with it other characteristics that dogs also show: the young foxes licked the hands of the carers and they rolled onto their backs to be petted on their stomach. This is a great vote of confidence because the belly is the most vulnerable part of a fox. And even adult foxes suddenly showed a play behavior.

"Some foxes are now as calm and tame as lap dogs."

The foxes even tolerated people looking them straight in the eye. Wild animals and even dogs don't like that at all. A direct look is seen as a challenge that leads to aggression.

Breeding foxes changes their appearance

Although the foxes on the fur farm had lived in captivity for a long time and knew people, they had never lost their fear of them. Only after friendliness towards humans had become the most important selection criterion did the animals lose this shyness. In the tenth generation, after about 25 years, there were also external changes.

Foxes get floppy ears

The foxes got floppy ears, the tail was no longer so straight and the snout became shorter. Many foxes also got spotted fur or a bright star on their foreheads. These are all characteristics that have also appeared in the domestication of wolves, wild horses and wild pigs.

Fox as a pet funds research

They are sold as pets to Western Europe and North America - for US $ 5,000 each. According to the scientists, several dozen animals have been placed in the past five years. The profit made in this way flows back into research. However, the foxes that have been placed are not house-trained or otherwise educated. The new owners have to take care of that themselves.

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