Weird Nature

Russians Are Trying To Turn Foxes Into Pets—But They Noticed A Weird Side Effect

Stories of the Cold War-era Soviet Union always read like they're straight out of a science fiction movie, and this tale of strange animal experiments is no exception. In the 1950s, a Soviet scientist named Dmitry K. Belyaev wanted to see if he could accelerate the domestication process of animals. He hoped to prove that it was possible to take 1,000 years of evolution and streamline the process into one that would span a hundred years or less. He chose to cross-breed dogs and foxes because of their similar gene structure, and carefully selected his breeding subjects in an attempt to replicate a perfect combination of traits and appearance that humans wanted in pets. The goal was to eventually domesticate foxes, using the personality and character of dogs matched to a foxy aesthetic.

It wasn't easy to be a scientist in Stalinist Russia, although things did let up after Stalin passed. Although Belyaev managed to survive and continue his research, he passed in 1985 before his project was completed. Scientists have continued Belyaev's work in genetics and now, after more than 50 years of work Russians have successfully created tame foxes. It took more than 30 generations of animals, and things haven't turned out exactly as predicted, but domesticated foxes are now on the market.