Can I Have A Pet Fox?

Do a YouTube search for pretty much any smallish animal you can think of and there'll be several videos of a "tame" or


Any feline, any canid, any mustelid (weasel), any procyonid (raccoon), any non-bonkers primate (baboons, which are completely terrifying, are exempt). Look at my pet kinkajou, my pet genet, my pet fennec fox, my pet ocelot. And then on the videos of cute furry animals in the wild, you'll see the comments: "omg i want it." When the internet sees a video of a red panda, the internet wants a red panda. Even though a red panda is endangered and a wild animal.

In 1959, a Soviet geneticist named Dmitry K. Belyaev began somewhat secretively experimenting with breeding domesticated foxes. More than five decades, thousands of foxes, and one collapse of the Soviet Union later, the program continues at The Institute of Cytology and Genetics at Novosibirsk, Siberia. Belyaev wanted to unlock the secrets of domestication, the links between behavior and breeding and physical traits, but plenty of non-scientists are aware of the project for a different reason: foxes are adorable, and we want to hug them, and we want them to like it.

But domesticated foxes, which can only be found at that Siberian facility, are not horrible pets. They're a little unconventional, and they require a little bit of extra attention, but if you want a pet fox, you can have a pet fox. All you need is $8,000 and the approval of Kay Fedewa, the exclusive importer of domesticated foxes in the US.

What Is Domestication? Domestication is not like taming. You can tame many wild animals so they won't try to kill you, by raising them from birth, but that's just learned behavior; that animal is unlikely to exhibit what we know as affection toward you, and the behavior it does have is not passed down to the tamed animal's offspring. Domestication is actually change at the genetic level: an animal repeatedly breeds, either through intentional human effort or not (or a combination of the two), to emphasize certain behavioral traits. In the case of animals that would, in the wild, be aggressive towards humans, those traits are easy to decide on: we want the most docile, least aggressive, and least skittish animal.

The Institute picked foxes on which to experiment for a few reasons. They're canids, like dogs, so it would be easy to compare them to a domesticated species, but they're not particularly closely related to dogs, so there's enough separation to see how forced domestication affects a new species. Also, these foxes were already "tame"--they were picked up from fur farms in Siberia, so they had a jump-start in adjusting to humans. But theoretically, you could domesticate just about any wild animal: mink have been domesticated in Denmark, and some have proposed domestication of certain rare but cuddly animals, like red pandas, as a means to save the species.

Read more at Popular Science
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