The Risk of Ranched Foxes

So why does it matter if a fox is bred in the US or Russia? The key here is that the foxes obtained from exotic breeders are not truly domesticated for companionship in the way Belyaev’s foxes are. Exotic breeders in the United States would have to either start breeding with foxes obtained either from the wild or from fur farms, both of which would still respond aggressively or fearfully towards humans. While the resulting pups could be socialized and tamed, any acclimation to humans would be learned behaviour, not genetic, and if those pups were to be bred, their offspring would have to be socialized all over again.

Exotic breeders simply do not have the numbers to be able to critically select pups based on their tamability as Belyaev did. Therefore, exotic breeders in the US cannot replicate the degree of domestication seen in the Russian foxes, and although foxes coming from exotic breeders may accept people due to learned behaviour, it is not because of a genetic predisposition.

This raises concerns regarding potential issues with aggression. One such example comes from the Sybil’s Den fox forums: a woman purchased and raised her fox Tokalu while living away from her husband for school. After 10 months she and Tokalu moved back in, and Tokalu acted aggressively towards her husband, biting his tendon, and continued to bark and growl at him on a regular basis (wren, 2013). It is likely this aggression is the result of insufficient socialization when the fox was young – though Tokalu became used to his owner, he remained aggressive towards other people. These kinds of behavioural problems present a risk to both the foxes and their owners – while in this case the husband did not file a complaint about his wife’s pet, a fox biting a stranger would likely result in euthanasia of the animal.