Domestic fox history and development


A dark beginning

A dark beginning


Foxes were first actively farmed for their gorgeous pelts in the late 1800's by Sir Charles Dalton of Prince Edward Island, Canada. Dalton began by capturing naturally occurring wild black coloured red fox cubs and reproducing them in captivity. From there, the farming of foxes spread as a concept and whilst now illegal here in the UK (with the last British fur farm closing its doors for good in 2002), a great many farms remain in business elsewhere. 

These early farmed foxes were highly aggressive and so fearful of humans that they could generally only be handled with the help of specialised catch equipment and thick protective gauntlets. 

Modern farmed foxes everywhere have been selectively bred for a more amenable temperament, making them safer to work with and their short lives less stressful. 

temperament, genetics and an almost forgotten russian experiment

It wasn't until the early 1950's that the Russian geneticist and director of the Institute of Cytology and Genetics, Dmitry Belyaev and his team began an incredible experiment that set out to discredit the now debunked theory of Lysenkoism, showcase Mendelian Inheritance, the domestication process and by default create the foundation for a new, tamer, less fractious fox. 

Starting with 30 dog foxes and around 100 vixens, Dmitry and his assistant Lyudmila Trut selectively bred their foxes for calm temperament. 

Year on year, only the tamest and least nervous animals were picked to breed the next generation of cubs. Tameness was judged in a controlled manner with each fox being identically temperament tested and given a tameness classification level at specific intervals throughout its development with the tamest foxes being graded as 1st class, and the least tame 3rd Class. Only the very top scoring 20% or so each generation became the next seasons breeding stock.
Within a few generations, Trut was already producing foxes that were tame beyond what they had expected from even a Class 1 animal and thus the Elite class was born.

As the years progressed, Elite graded foxes were appearing with increasing regularity and by 2009 as many as 80% of that years cubs were graded as Elite. 

Belyaev was put to rest in 1985 having proven unequivocally that temperament is indeed genetically heritable. The experiment continues to this day but is in great financial difficulty. Silver foxes from these selectively bred animals can be purchased but only at astronomically high expense and having been surgically sterilised to prevent breeding. The tame silver foxes available in the UK today are the descendants of European fur farm animals who were also selectively breed for calm temperament as well as fur and colour type. 

The truth behind selecting for specific temperament traits is one that breeders of all domesticated animals, irrespective of species would be wise to take into account...

For further reading, we recommend a visit to BLACK FOXES UK.

Photo by ChristiLaLiberte/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by ChristiLaLiberte/iStock / Getty Images

Riley rushes to greet me.

Riley rushes to greet me.

Silver Foxes as pets

There are as many as 45 subspecies of the Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) with our native red being Vulpes crucigera and pet Silver Foxes being the selectively bred descendants of naturally occurring melanistic individuals of the American subspecies, Vulpes fulva

After the last British fur farms shut down, a few of these Silver foxes remained in private keepers care and have been kept and bred in tiny numbers ever since. 

Today's British Silver foxes have a predisposition towards an interest and kinship with people. This is not to say that they make an ideal family pet however and nobody should ever embark upon the keeping of any animal, least of all an unconventional one without having thoroughly researched their care requirements and suitability as a pet at length first. No matter how much you love the idea of a pet fox, that idea should never become reality unless you can absolutely guarantee that you can offer it a high level of care, quality of life and a permanent home. 

Please read our page FOXES AS PETS for further information.