n the age of the internet, a simple YouTube search calls up tons of videos featuring "tame" versions of just about any relatively small animal, says Dan Nosowitz at Popular Science. "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," says Nosowitz. Humans have long sought to domesticate animals — it's one of the three traits (along with tool use and symbolic behavior such as art and rituals) most associated with our species. And lucky for those hell-bent on bringing an adorably fluffy fox into their living rooms, acquiring a domesticated fox is actually quite possible, as long as you're dedicated to caring for a rather unconventional pet. Nosowitz outlines the history of fox domestication, gives a thorough overview of its legality, and speaks to some colorful personalities in his Popular Science piece:
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 U.S. [...]
The Soviet (and later, Russian) study out there in Siberia did eventually breed a domesticated silver fox (read: a red fox with silver fur) that's pretty close to our dream fox. It loves and craves attention from people, it'll lick your face, it'll cuddle with you, it'll wag its giant puffy tail when it sees you, it'll play with toys in your house while you try to take the perfect Instagram picture of it. Wild foxes will not do this; they will either run away from you or attempt to bite your face off. Tame foxes may not flee or attack, but they also won't cuddle. These domesticated foxes, on the other hand, have between 30 and 35 generations of selective breeding behind them, with careful monitoring to ensure a lack of inbreeding, and they're not even close to wild — in fact, they probably wouldn't survive in the wild.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- 31 TV shows to watch in 2014
- Why atheism doesn't have the upper hand over religion
- The world's dumbest idea: Taxing solar energy
- He said he was leaving. She ignored him.
- Attack of the invasive species
- Which states get screwed worst by the Electoral College?
- 14 wonderful words with no English equivalent
- 10 things you need to know today: April 19, 2014
- How Captain America won over China
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
Subscribe to the Week