22 March 2011

I'll take two, thanks...

[Photo by pica - pau, who also has an Etsy shop]

I don't normally buy the National Geographic magazine.  Whilst the photography is always mind blowing, the content is often a bit thin, I find.  But I absolutely had to get my hands on the March issue as it had an article about the domestication of animals, how dogs became our best friends - a topic rather close to my heart.

The article hangs on an experiment that's been going on in Russia, where gorgeous fluffy foxes have been selectively bred for years and years with those foxes who are most friendly to humans being chosen to breed.  The end result is a fox that basically acts like a domesticated dog - it seeks out and enjoys human contact, wags it's tail, plays fetch and responds to basic commands (ah, so not quite like our two domesticated dogs then...).  And to fund the ongoing research the clever boffins are trying to get permits to sell these happy foxes as pets!  Foxes as pets?  Death by foxie?  I'll take two, thanks!

ps. I would strongly encourage you to go have a look at the photo gallery for the article.  You will see a pig on a lounge chair, an angry mouse, lots of goats and a sheep prepped for a CT scan, which is way cuter than it sounds.  And friendly fluffy foxes of course.  Go look!


  1. I have mixed feelings about this.

    Although I love our pets enormously I still relish seeing animals [especially birds and fish] living in their own habitats.

    I have to ponder it a bit more.

    xx Felicity

  2. I saw a documentary about the place in Russia - think it was this BBC one: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00pssgh

    I'm with Felicity - there's something a little on the nose about it, don't know why.

    Although I'd take that all back if you told me I could have a pet tiger, so...

  3. hmm, interesting! I guess I found the whole idea of finding out more about the human-dog relationship so fascinating I didn't stop to look at it as anything other than that.

    Felicity - here's a few things that might make you feel less 'mixed' about it:
    - The foxes are rescued from fur farms, so I guess if I had a choice between foxes as pets and foxes round peoples necks, I'd choose pets!
    - This doesn't mean we could take any wild animal and selectively breed it to induce domestication. One of the interesting things in the article is just what a tiny tiny percentage of animals have been domesticated. One possibility is that the animal (rooster, pig, cow, etc) is perhaps genetically predisposed to domestication, and it is an interaction between human and animal that causes domestication.
    - The article also talks about the big difference between 'taming' and animal and domestication, two very different things.

    Helen - although tigers are big cats (so I guess they might be able to do the same thing with them) I'm not sure I'd want a bit that could quite easily killed me in my sleep! Plus, imagine it pawing your lap?! Or climbing the curtains?!

  4. Unpacking my thoughts about this a bit more... I don't find the idea of 'natural' domestication (a term I'm making up to mean something taking place other hundreds of years) icky. And I don't have a problem with breeding for desirable traits (ignoring the extremes of, say, pugs that can't breath properly). And I think that's where my issue with the foxes are - in the doco I saw, the foxes were these fluffy, floppy things. They reminded me of those ragdoll cats that are intentionally bred to be limp - yes limp! - and, squick. But it still was a fascinating experiment to see, how quickly the foxes changed, and although they were selecting for tameness, their fur and ears and physical attributes changed distinctly.

  5. Interesting article. And the photos were great. Thanks for sharing this.


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