Did you know that foxes could be trained too and even potentially become pets?
Irina Mukhametshina, 22, from Novosibirsk, Russia, is just someone who trains foxes. Her animals belong to the Novosibirsk Institute of Cytology and Genetics which is studying the process of domestication of wild animals and trying to create a special “social” type of foxes, which need to communicate with humans.
Irina tells it’s quite curious to work with the foxes: they wag their tails and ask for your attention just like dogs.
Irina has been training dogs since her teen age. It was her own initiative to train the foxes of the Institute. She was permitted to choose two young animals for this. Young ones are more interested in everything, including food which is used to motivate them.
The first step was to draw the animals’ attention then to teach them simple orders. They were training daily for fifteen minutes and learnt everything in three weeks.
Foxes can respond to their nicknames as dogs. Irana’s foxes are named Anna and Elma. Once they had a Japanese delegation who came to see the process of the foxes education, they were amazed with the results.
Now Irina knows that foxes can really become excellent pets. However their behavior is not the same as dogs’ one. Sometimes they also resemble cats. When they are praised they wag their tails but in wild nature they never do this. When they want some attention from a human they lick him/her.
For the institute it’s an experiment. The fox was chosen because it was close to the first domestic animal – a dog. Besides, foxes could breed in captivity.
The work with the foxes is based on the simple idea – they are trying to do the same that was done by our ancestors with dogs, cats, cows, pigs and horses. They choose foxes on the basis of their good relationship to people in hope to get the same range of changes, which are typical for any domesticated species.
What happened to the foxes in the result of the selection according to their kindness to humans? Within a few generations, the level of a stress hormone, cortisol, plummeted in their blood. They no longer feel discomfort when deal with people. Foxes-mothers with the reduced hormones also influence their pups. The species has really changed.
There appeared pups with little white stars on their foreheads, then more white spots spreaded along their bodies, just like it happened with dogs. Their ears became hanging, their tails – curled, their faces – shorter.
The foxes became rather tender even to strangers. So the idea of artificial selection on kindness had important results for the science. It gave the unique population of animals for modern researches in the sphere of genetics and psychology, giving birth to the theory of destabilizing selection for understanding the processes that occur during domestication.