Domesticated Foxes Offer A Peek Into The Often Ugly World Of Exotic Pets

In 1959 a Russian scientist began experiments in domesticating foxes as an inquiry into the mechanics of domestication of animals. Today, the institute he founded continues to operate and if one qualifies they can obtain domesticated foxes for $8,000 each.

Of course the idea of domesticated foxes raises many ethical and other questions. Is the seemingly limitless desire of human to obtain “cute” wild pets good? Or is it as destructive as many think it is. Dmitri K.Belyaev, the scientist who started with foxes probably didn’t know where it would all go.

True foxes are canid relatives of domestic dogs. They are genetically close but usually not able to breed successfully.

To begin with let’s discuss the difference between a tamed wild animal and a domesticated pet.

As Popular Science puts it:

“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.”

Cats and dogs took many generations to domesticate. Foxes from the descendants of Belyaev’s experiments have 35 generations of human contact behind them. But not all exotic animal purveyors are as scrupulous and ethical. Nor are all parts of the United States and the world as careful of animal rights and human safety.

liger walking in a zoo enclosure
The liger is a cross between a male lion and a female tiger. It is one of many exotic cat hybrids created for debatable reasons. Both lions and tigers are in danger of extinction and money, time, space, and management spent on unnatural sideshows are considered a bad diversion by many,

The root question is why do people take it on themselves to own wild animals? In the case of foxes there are probably millions of domesticated dogs worldwide without a stable home. Why do you need to spend $8,000 to own a domesticated fox? Perhaps you can justify some of the foxes as by -products of valid research. After all, Belyaev was studying domestication. But spending money to obtain a cheetah cub? What about taking a hippo out of its natural habitat? Or having tigers and other cats for selfish display? Then there are those who tire of a pet python and toss it out the window to fend for itself?

hippo with open mouth eating grass in zoo
For some reason the late drug lord Pablo Escobar imported “pet “”hippos into Colombia. They are increasing in number and posing a threat to the Colombian ecosystem and may be hunted to solve the problem. Photo by Mehmet Turgut Kirkgoz on

Of course the problem is a difficult as human nature. We can show greed, selfishness, laziness and other negative qualities. These negative attributes can pair with science, curiosity, and entrepreneurism to lead to invasive species and sometimes horrific results. Nutria, for example, are a major invasive species brought into this country. Fur traders bred them to make coats. When the fur trade collapsed, the traders did not behave responsibly and ethically with their rodents. Now we have a nationwide problem.

Florida is reeling from a series of introduced invasive species. Pythons are perhaps the best known but eels (a food source) are clogging waterways after humans dumped surplus eels out the back door. It is not a small problem. Unwanted pets, whether traditional or exotic, cost billions in management and other costs. Many are severely destructive.

Published by ursusrising

long time writer and editor living in Los Angeles

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