Do a YouTube search for pretty much any smallish animal you can think of and there'll be several videos of a "tame" or "pet" version. 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.
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.
After a few generations, the results began to get a little weird. The study found that though they were selectively breeding only for behavior, they began seeing new common physical traits. The animals developed different coat patterns, floppier ears, tails that curled over their backs--totally unknown in wild foxes. When we tried to breed a fox that would act more like a dog, we ended up with a fox that looked more like a dog. But they're not as easy to acquire as a dog.
Where Can I Get One?
For a brief time, a company called SibFox was selling foxes bred at the Siberian lab. They were selling for about $6,000, but it's not clear that anyone ever actually received one of these foxes. The Daily reported that two foxes that actually shipped to the States ended up confiscated at the US border and shipped to the Austin Zoo and Animal Sanctuary, where they are doing "wonderfully." Apparently these foxes were kept in dog kennels, which is improper, and weren't fed or watered properly--by all accounts, the SibFox people were not licensed and were inexperienced at importing exotic animals. The only upside is that the animals survived the journey from Russia. SibFox refunded the customers' money, stopped responding to emails, and shut down their website. Until now, SibFox was the closest anyone in the US had gotten to receiving a domesticated fox.
Then there are breeders like Tiny Tracks Exotic Animals, located outside of Fort Wayne, Indiana, specializing in several varieties of fox (red fox, gray fox, and arctic fox) as well as supposedly tame raccoons, skunks, and coatis (a Central/South American mammal closely related to the raccoon). Want a pet arctic fox? That'll run you $600. Red foxes are a little cheaper, at $400. That's cheaper than a skunk ($450) and waaaay cheaper than something more exotic, like a kinkajou, which runs anywhere from $1,200 to $3,000. For comparison, a purebred Siberian husky can run you anywhere from $400 to $2,000, depending on its breeding and the reputation of the breeder.
But none of these foxes, the ones that cost a few hundred dollars, are "domesticated." They are wild foxes. Wild foxes are not pets; they are wild animals. The word "tame" means essentially nothing here--it mostly means "nice when it's a baby." The foxes from Siberia are pets. Foxes from Indiana? Wild.
(Tiny Tracks repeatedly did not respond to requests for comment; Kay Fedewa described the people who run it as "not very nice people, really quite rude, even to the people they're selling animals to.")
Indiana is something of a promised land for exotic pet farms and owners, a libertarian wonderland where for a mere ten-dollar processing fee you can have a pet grizzly bear. Neighboring Kentucky, hardly a state you'd think would be prude about wild animals, is a fairly typical example of state laws: anything "inherently dangerous," which includes venomous animals (snakes, lizards), huge animals (hippos, elephants), and animals that would prefer to murder you than let you pat them on the head (big cats, bears, baboons) are all outlawed. But so is any animal that has never naturally lived in Kentucky, mostly to avoid issues with invasive species. Most states simply ban any normally "wild" animal from being kept as a pet.
But not Indiana! Indiana has three classes of wild animals. Class 1 is mostly squirrels. Class 2 includes foxes, beavers, skunks, raccoons, coyotes, and weasels. Class 3 includes "venomous reptiles," and all species of bear, big cat, and wolf. All three classes are legal! In fact, the only thing that separates Class 3 animals, which are banned pretty much everywhere else, is that a letter is sent to the hopeful leopard-owner's neighbors. If 25 or more neighbors respond with a letter saying they are not interested in having a leopard on the block, the leopard is not allowed. Otherwise, no problem, sir. What's your leopard's name?
Even more insane is that Indiana provides no law preventing you from owning an endangered species. Here's what the state document says: "Endangered species of wild animals will be considered Class I, II or III by the division director's designee and must follow the same procedures accordingly for that class of animal." So, basically, your local bureaucrat will decide if your pet western lowland gorilla is a Class 2 or 3 animal, then you give him a ten-spot for processing, and you're all set, the proud owner of one of about fourteen western lowland gorillas. Maybe you can take it to see the home of former president Benjamin Harrison in the lovely Old Northside Historic District of Indianapolis.
It's worth noting that Maine is even more lenient than Indiana; the only real law in Maine is that wild animals have to have an identification tag. Yet Mainers seem mostly uninterested in owning pet jaguarundis, at least in comparison with Hoosiers.
Foxes are only legal in a handful of states. This is a pretty good guide. In some the laws are a little flexible; in Michigan, where Fedewa lives, you can have only a native species, meaning the various colors of red fox. The grey fox, which is a totally different species more commonly found in the western and southern states, is not allowed, nor is the arctic or fennec fox. A few states simply ban taking foxes from the wild. But the laws are often vague and open to interpretation, which can lead to trouble for fox owners who may or may not be in violation.
Dan, Mitch Calmanson sounds a great deal like my father and I believe your description is ill-chosen. "Speaking ones piece" and then remaining silent isn't unusual. It creates opportunity for intelligent conversation. Those who can't keep up their end of a conversation might find it off-putting. Those whose intent is to learn listen.
The headline reminded me of something I saw on TV years ago.
Then I read the article and it is EXACTLY the same research I saw on TV years ago.
I thought we would have done more with that knowledge by now.
Why are animals still endangered? Where is my miniature pet elephant?
Its simple animal breeding anyone can do. We should have domesticated versions of all wild animals by now. Especially those that are easy to breed.
This story was covered in a PBS special called "Dogs Decoded" about canine DNA and domestication. They were using these foxes as an example of how domestication can actually change the physical traits of these animals, such as shorter snouts, floppy ears and more "expressive" eyes. If you have Netflix, it's on there.
Foxes are awesome!
The work done to make more tame fox's were not in any way an attempt to make a pet. They were to be used as animals for the fur trade. Wild animals would be tested to see which ones tended to be less wild and then bred to less wild ones. The changes brought on by this breeding was to make very tame fox but failed in the attempt to make good quality fur. (lucky for the fox)
All of this is on a PBS show.
Who the heck has $8000 for a pet fox? I mean seriously.
I have to wonder about the domestication project. What exactly happens to all of the non chosen ones? Were they destroyed as unsuitable - or left to enjoy life at club Russia?
Those would seem to be the choices -- especially in the later stages. As the project progressed, some indivduals involved would certainly not thrive in the wild, while also not being suitable as companions.
Great feature. I've always wondered why so many people seem to want exotic animals. Honestly I've questioned their sanity any number of times (especially the ones with "extreme" animals). After reading the article, I'm not quite so sure about having such strong thoughts about those people. All I can say is that I certainly don't want one. An ordinary house cat is more than enough for me. Also, I'm not comfortable with the idea of even domesticated exotic animals. Just because an animal is domestic does not mean it can't go nutty and attack a neighbor.
I thought this story sounded familiar and sure enough that's because it was in Scientific American in 2010.
And the great thing about it, their version is written for grown-ups, it's not written in lolcat trying to be down with the kids.
you created an account for that comment?? The article you referenced is only about the Russian fox study and barely even mentions pets. How is that the same as this article (see title)?
But When Can I get Bunnygirl?
Don't be surprised if it eats your cat.
It seems weird to me to genetically engineer an animal to love us...
at least when we initially domesticated wolves they served a purpose, we needed them to help us with livestock, to hunt vermin, etc...
we're breeding these poor animals in labs merely for our own amusement... it doesn't seem fair or humane.
I will be speaking to the Alabama Conservation Advisory Board on Feb 9 to make a case for making foxes legal pets in AL (currently ALL foxes are illegal regardless of origin). Please consider signing my petition at Change.org/petitions/domestic-fox-legalization. If you have any advice or if you know someone willing to write a short paragraph or two about their experience, I would greatly appreciate it! Thanks!!
I live in Georgia where we have an ample supply of (common) possums. I had the occasion to rescue some baby possums, which I later learned was illegal to do (without a wildlife rehab license of some sort). I'll tell you, baby possums are really fun to play with, and fully-grown possums are not the disgusting, filthy, vicious animals you may think. Their behavior is roughly comparable to cats: they keep themselves clean, but don't have much personality or a complex behavioral repertoire, and I never had one bite or scratch or otherwise act aggressive toward me (I'm not referring to wild possums but the ones I rescued and raised). They can be trained to use a litter box. An expert will probably tell you there's dangers trying to tame or domesticate possums, and I would defer to a true expert. I just regret that an interesting and fun animal that is at the opposite extreme of being endangered is illegal to own.
The very nature of this is been repeated in humans and yet current modern human culture is in denial about the document written history given to them from the (beings that come down from above) who created humans to serve the GODS, via the Sumerian tablet history.
Prior to the Sumerians culture, no such story existed before like this, so it is documented history, not hand me down myth. There is a large difference.
You know, Neanderthal is documented to be an independent bunch living in groups of 10 with larger brains than modern humans. The GODS need to domesticate the local primates, enable their communication skies, instill them a high desire to gather\greed, with the imagination and intelligence to do so. It is said, as we obey the GODS, they are please.
What a perfect domesticated pet, lol!
Hmmm I know people who own Bobcats here in Texas. And have seen first hand how these animals will cuddle and play with their owners. So..I think it all depends on the individual animal and how its hand raised. My friends Bobcat even plays with his dog lol! Not all animals from the wild will try to bite your face off!
I believe there are some animals that people have tried domesticating in the same way the Institute did, but were unsuccessful. I think this has been tried with zebras several times but for whatever reason, never works.
Far Out Man, my comment was as much about the writing style as the repetitiveness. I don't think the pet aspect of the story added anything because it was so casual and rambling. "So, I want a pet fox. But I won't get one. I will take pictures of them and post them on my Facebook." I would rather read about actual science more than Dan Nosowitz's diary. This site seems to be making a big push to get young male readers, all the video game and smart phone app "news" and dumbed-down headlines, and I like grown-up science articles, not rambling personal stories speculating about people being "weirdos" and narcissistically centered on the author's feelings.
Social media just sells better.....
I don't know about foxes, but my wolf is a butthole.
very well then. I found the article to be quite interesting and well written. Of course I'm coming from the side that wouldn't want a wild animal as a pet, so I'm sure that caught my attention right away. The article covered all the bases nicely and as I indicated, it did make me sit back and ask myself if I was being too judgmental. However, even now I'm asking myself why Dan would want a fox ... and I certainly don't want my neighbor to have a wildcat as a pet!
Help Stop Fox and Coyote Hunt Pens. Please read and pass on the more people who know the facts the better. o-called foxhound training facilities, or fox pens, as they are more commonly known, are parcels of land with a minimum size of 100 acres, which are entirely fenced to create an escape-proof enclosure into which foxes are released, ostensibly for the purposes of training foxhounds to follow the scent of foxes and pursue this quarry. Foxes are live-trapped from the wild within a 50-mile radius of the facility, and stocked into these enclosures at densities determined by the owners. Then, for a fee paid to the fox pen operator, hounds are allowed inside the facility to pursue these foxes. While owners and advocates of these facilities contend that the foxes are not harmed by this confinement and pursuit, the fact that approximately 4,000 foxes have been introduced to fewer than 40 such facilities in the last few years seems to contradict such statements. Go the The Wildlife Center of Virginia website for more info.
Come here, little fox, let us inbreed you into submission :p
dammit, this article really fires me up...I want a pet fox so badly now!
Make me think of this:
“So the little prince tamed the fox. And when the hour of his departure drew near--
Ah," said the fox, "I shall cry."
It is your own fault," said the little prince. "I never wished you any sort of harm; but you wanted me to tame you . . ."
Yes, that is so," said the fox.
But now you are going to cry!" said the little prince.
Yes, that is so," said the fox.
Then it has done you no good at all!"
It has done me good," said the fox, "because of the color of the wheat fields.”
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
Foxes are beautiful, but I still prefer the many dogs and cats we have now! To me, foxes belong free in the wild so we need to help protect them and their natural habitats. - Author Janette of the new poem Beloved Cat: Once Mortal Enemy, Now Immortal Friend at
Am I really the ONLY reader who was reminded of "Kevin & Kell" (a web comic) while reading this article?!?!
When tame wild animals grow up they retain the characteristics of their wild counterparts and not those of a domesticated pet. So why would an animal that is affectionate and social by nature acquire an uncharacteristic behavior, like becoming anti-social?
I have pet red fox, Aspen and pet raccoon, Savannah that I purchased from Tiny Tracks in Ind, I live in FL, and I love them like they are my children. Savannah follows me around and loves to be petted. Aspen loves to run in fenced in yard, she also loves to be petted and lots of attention. She is good on leash when attached with my little dachund, she thinks she is her mother, Aspen would play 24/7 if any animal would play with her, she is very friendly and loves all dogs so I have to watch her around dogs so they don't get her! She has gotten out in the neighborhood and always comes back. (2x). I do spend alot of time with them and they have a big 10 x 20 pen with lots of toys and high places to sit anda den to hide in. I love my pets! Sav. can come in house anytime, but Aspen marks too much so she is outside and garage which is set up with chairs and tv, a hangout area.