When you hear domesticated animal you typically think of a pig, a sheep, a dog, a cat. And if you ever took a history or geography course when you were in school, you’ll probably remember that almost all these animals were domesticated by our ancestors thousands of years ago in remote regions of the world. Although still domesticated in a remote area, the last 60 years have seen a new wild animal fall into the hands of children around the world; the fox.
More than fifty years ago Russian geneticist Dmitri Belyaev began an experiment that not only brought a wild animal into people’s homes as pets, but also shed light on how dogs descended from wolves. After losing his job and then becoming director of the Institute of Cytology and Genetics amidst the political shift towards Khrushchev’s scientific policies, Belyaev began his radical experiment to tame the fox, using his study of genetics.
He began working with a silver fox farm in the cold of Siberia, where the owners were of course looking for more tame foxes so that handling was easier. Selecting particular foxes for inherent tameness, Belyaev began a very methodical selective breeding program, allowing less than 20% of each successive generation of the most tame foxes to continue on the program.
Although he bred them for attributes of tameness, Belyaev and his team started to notice drastic physical changes to the foxes’ appearance. Where their ancestors had pointy ears and a silver-black coat, this new generation had floppier ears, a dog-like bark, and even dog-like colouration in some cases. Surprise is probably an understatement when researchers began to realize that they were in the process of domesticating the fox, just like dogs had undergone 17 000 years ago from the wolf.
Now, forty generations into the program, the foxes are not being killed for their fur, but are rather being shipped abroad as pets, a sort of dog-cat hybrid. Small, agile, and slender like a cat, while playful, loyal, and having a face like a dog. They also have similar dietary requirements of a dog and can be treated by your local vet too.
So after reading this your probably thinking where you can get yourself a pet fox. If you are really gung-ho, prepare to pay upwards of $6000 and wait one to three months for your pet fox to be delivered to the US distributor, Sibfox, based out of Las Vegas. You can check them out at their website. And if you think foxes aren’t cool enough for you, as long as you don’t live in Ontario or certain US states, you can have a pet skunk, with its “stink” glands removed of course. But unlike the dog-like fox, skunk require extensive care, special food, special veterinary treatment, and can even burrow in your furniture! When it comes down to it, you get a pet for companionship, not for a cool dinner story.
Check out these videos about the domesticated silver fox.