Cunning plan to import silver foxes

There’s been a bit of controversy in the past week over a plan to import silver foxes into Australia as an exotic pet.

As required under the federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, the application has been put up on the Australian Government’s website for public comment (which is open until 20 October 2011, if you want to have your say).

Now, it’s too early to say what the government’s decision will be, but you’d have to expect that, given the general unpopularity of foxes red, silver or otherwise in Australia, it’s unlikely to be successful.

But since we recently discussed the domestication of silver foxes on Lost in Science, we have to ask: are these the same animals?

Actually, it would seem, no. Silver foxes have been domesticated over the past half-century in a Russian research institute, and they’ve established a relationship with an American business, Sibfox, to distribute them as pets. Whereas the application on the government’s website (PDF 256 KB) is from a different US supplier, Redmon Fox.

John Redmon is a breeder and tamer of captive foxes, which are genetically the same as wild foxes. They are quite distinct from the Russian foxes, which have picked up dog-like traits over decades of selective breeding.

Does it make a difference? Probably not much, given that domestic animals like dogs and cats have gone feral in Australia. But it does seem highly likely that wider awareness of the Russian experiments would increase demand for them as pets – whether truly domesticated or not.

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