Scientists at a fur farm in Siberia reveal today they have spent 45 years breeding generations of tame foxes. The result is a population of domesticated animals with big floppy ears, curly tails and rounder, more puppy-like faces.
Unlike the all-black silver foxes from which they are descended, they have patches of white on their heads, legs and tails. After being bred across dozens of generations, the foxes behave in much the same way as pet dogs, according to the study in the journal Current Biology. The friendly foxes, the scientists say, approach them "fearlessly and non-aggressively".
In a series of tests, the tame foxes appeared to be brighter than their wild cousins. The research suggests that some aspects of social intelligence in animals are linked to genetically selected tame behaviour rather than deliberate breeding from animals with social skills. The tame foxes were quicker to follow human cues of pointing and eye gaze.
The scientists, led by Brian Hare at the Max Plank Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, wanted to investigate social problem-solving in animals.
Source: New Pets, by David Adam, The Guardian Feb 08, 2005.