In 1954 a Russian geneticist by the name of Dmitry Belyaev had a attempted to find out how to isolate the genes that make dogs so easy to train. In order to do so he startes a fox farm in Siberia and he set out a goal to domesticate foxes like we have dogs. He wanted to give them the power to follow human command.
Belyaev opened the door to this new theory but he died in 1985 before he could see a result to his work. Others have carried out his work and about 50,000 foxes down the project is still not complete.
However, they are very close says Ceiridwen Terrill who recently visited Belyaev’s fox farm in which she said looked like broken-down army barracks. Terril is an associated professor of Science Writing and Environmental Journalism at Concordia University of Portland, Oregon. She is also author of the book Part Wild: One Woman’s Journey with a Creature Caught Between the Worlds of Wolves and Dogs.
In an Interview with NPR host Guy Raz during an All Things Considered segment, Terrill said, “What you have are rows and rows of sheds that house about a hundred foxes each. There’s about 3,000 foxes on-site.” She also added that the foxes are so tame she was able to reach into one of the cages and give a small fox a scratch on his belly.
The foxes have become genetically designed to crave human contact which explains why they love having their belly scratched. Terrill added that there are also individual foxes who have been taught to sit and fetch on command.
This news is all wonderful but the real test us true domestication. The researchers must take it to a larger scale. The experiment does show that the foxes are genetically tame. The only way we can truly know is by socialization and training. The foxes need to be in living situations with humans.
Today the fox farm in Siberia is selling fox cubs as house pets in order to raise capital for its financial difficulties. The farm promises that for just under $7,000, you can have a four month old fox cub at your front door. The problem is that the foxes have not been socialized to live in a human household and at that age of 4 months old Terril says the socialization window has closed.
At this point it would probably be a better option to choose from one of the millions of dogs and cats who live in shelters every year rather than try your luck with a fox.
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