That is the question researchers in a “National Geographic” piece written by Evan Ratliff try to answer. The article focuses on a group of foxes that researchers have been attempting to breed to become more tame over the course of decades.
Today, however, Mavrik is the lucky recipient. Trut reaches in and
scoops him up, then hands him over to me. Cradled in my arms, gently
jawing my hand in his mouth, he’s as docile as any lapdog.Except that Mavrik, as it happens, is not a dog at all. He’s a fox.
Hidden away on this overgrown property, flanked by birch forests and
barred by a rusty metal gate, he and several hundred of his relatives
are the only population of domesticated silver foxes in the world.
(Most of them are, indeed, silver or dark gray; Mavrik is rare in his
chestnut fur.) And by “domesticated” I don’t mean captured and tamed,
or raised by humans and conditioned by food to tolerate the occasional
petting. I mean bred for domestication, as tame as your tabby cat or
your Labrador. In fact, says Anna Kukekova, a Cornell researcher who
studies the foxes, “they remind me a lot of golden retrievers, who are
basically not aware that there are good people, bad people, people that
they have met before, and those they haven’t.” These foxes treat any
human as a potential companion, a behavior that is the product of
arguably the most extraordinary breeding experiment ever conducted.
It’s a fascinating look into the genetics of furbearers and other animals.