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Posts Tagged ‘domesticating the fennec fox’

There are two basic reasons:

The first is that fennec foxes don’t have the same musk glands as other vulpine foxes.

That’s actually quite a plus.  Other foxes– especially red foxes– are known for producing an odor that smells something like that of a skunk.

Fennecs don’t produce that odor.

The other is that fennecs live in packs.

They don’t live in packs to hunt larger prey, but their family groups have essentially the same dynamics as a wolf pack.

A wolf pack is based upon a mated pair that have an intense pair bond, and virtually all the other animals in the pack are their grown offspring, which stay behind to take care of their younger brothers and sisters.

This same dynamic exists with fennec foxes.

With more than two adults to forage over the desert, the young fennec kits get more attention and more food than they would get if only their mother and father were caring for them.

Humans have already domesticated one dog species that has this particularly social arrangement.

It’s actually been suggested that reason why humans domesticated wolves so easily is that both humans and wolves have similar social arrangements. Both wolves and humans may have recognized as similarity in this regard, and the two species were able to form very close relationships.

Maybe something similar could happen with fennecs.

It’s certainly true that most fennecs in captivity today are derived from ancestors that were dug out of dens.

In North Africa, people have kept pet fennecs for centuries, but it’s been only in the past few decades that anyone thought of keeping them in the West.

They are still wild animals. Not all individuals have docile temperaments, even when bottle-raised.

But it seems to me that as these animals become a bit more established in the pet trade, there will be attempts to breed them with more docile temperaments.

Although we have domesticated populations of red and arctic fox, these animals are not widely available on the pet market (for the reasons I mentioned earlier).

But fennecs could become the second canid species to become established as a domestic animals.

All it will take is a large enough gene pool of captive individuals and a concerted effort to selectively breed them to be suitable pets.

This may sound a bit far-fetched, but when I was a child, it was impossible to buy golden hamsters– even those with fancy colorations and coat lengths– that were naturally disposed to be tame.

All of the hamsters I owned bit me at least once, and most bit at least once a month.

Today, you can go to a pet store and buy hamsters that have been selected for “low reactivity.”

Hamsters have been bred away from the grumpy little things that they are in the wild.

And what’s more, pet golden hamsters derive from only a single litter that was captured near Aleppo, Syria, in 1930.

They are perhaps the most inbred of all domestic animals, but even though they are inbred, they have been able to produce just enough genetic variation to produce unique coat lengths and colors and just enough variation in temperament to produce very gentle strains.

Captive fennec foxes have a broader genetic base than golden hamsters, so it may be possible to begin another canid domestication process.

We’ve done it before.

We can do it again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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