Foxes as pets

So, I’ve heard from multiple sources through the years about the amazing fox domestication experiments in Russia. Today I came across this cool homemade video of an American who visisted the fox domestication farm to learn more.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Here’s the explanation of what’s up:

How I ended up here starts in the United States, listening to a podcast that I religiously follow called Radiolab from NPR/WNYC. They had a show called “New Normal” in which they discussed reframing ideas of normalcy. One of the stories was about a fox farm in Novosibirsk which had been working to domesticate the foxes for over 50 years.

It was started by a researcher at the Novosibirsk Institute of Biology named Dr. Belyaev in the Soviet days, during which he had to keep it disguised as a fur farm since the Soviet administration perceived genetic studies like his as a sort of pseudoscience and did not permit it. Starting with a few hundred foxes obtained from Estonia, he selected the ones that were most friendly and most hostile toward humans for continued breeding.

This wasn’t just capturing wild animals and trying to tame them, it was an attempt to artificially re-create the evolutionary process of domestication in few generations, a process which took thousands of years for other animals like that from wolves to dogs.

I seem to recall that there’s been very interesting genetic results from this.  When you breed for a gentler temperament, you are basically breeding to turn the foxes into permanent juveniles and they “tame” foxes also have the morphology of juvenile foxes even when adults.  Pretty cool.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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