Fifty years later Belyaev's experiment is still on-going. Foxes today are 35 generations removed from the original foxes in the study -- with only the tamest foxes being bred. One of the most interesting effects of selecting ONLY for temperament has been the changes in the domesticated foxes physical appearance. Coats developed a piebald appearance, tails shortened and in some cases curled, and ears flopped instead of sticking straight up.
This is significant since it indicates that the diversity in appearance of our domestic dog could have originally developed as a result of selection for behavior. While in modern times dog fanciers select for appearance, long ago dogs were bred for function, and the ear carriage, coat color and length would have been a much smaller, if not irrelevant consideration.
True domestication is the result of animals being bred over many generations in such a way that they have been genetically altered to not only appear different than their wild counterparts -- but to be much more tractable than them. This differs from tameness -- which merely means that an animal has been raised in such a way that makes it easier to handle than it's wild relatives, however it has not necessarily been genetically changed and still retains it's wild behaviors, instincts and appearances.Roy Horn of the duo Siegfried and Roy was seriously injured when he was bitten in the neck by a 7 year old tiger he'd raised from a cub that was part of his Las Vegas act. While the tiger had a relationship with Horn, it was still a wild animal.
Recently Belyaev's foxes have offered for sale in the United States through a distributor in Las Vegas, NV called Sibfox. For only $5,950 a person can have their own domesticated fox transported from the Institute of Cytology and Genetics in Russia.
While these foxes truly are domesticated animals, I have a problem with this for many reasons. First of all -- not much is known about keeping a fox as a pet. We don't know what their natural behavior is, nor do we know if a rabies vaccination developed for dogs is effective for foxes. The website states that there are very few fox owners out there, and so not many people have yet experienced them as pets.
This brings me to the next problem. On Sibfoxes FAQ page it states: "...none of our clients expressed interest in sharing their contact information with the public for any purpose. However, we can e-mail questions that you may have to them and determine whether they want to respond by email or telephone." So a potential purchaser does not have an opportunity to directly contact a current fox owner to ask questions.
The FAQ section also indicates that a prospective buyer has no opportunity to meet the fox they are purchasing prior to purchase, much less meet it's parents. Animal welfare professionals recommend that when purchasing an animal from a breeder the parents be met since the parents behavior is indicitive of what the temperament of it's offspring will have.
While I'm fascinated by the research results of Belyaev's foxes, I am very unhappy about having even domesticated foxes become pets. While the FAQ section indicated that all foxes will be neutered before being shipped to the United States (most likely as a way for them to remain the only source of the domestic fox pet trade), I see no reason for a new canid to become pets -- after we are very familiar with the behavior and care of dogs. And there are so many of them out there in need of a home.