She's Fantastic Miss Fox: The endearing tame animal who thinks she's a pet dog
- Young Russian dog trainer teaches rare tame foxes to follow commands
- Foxes can 'sit', 'stay' and 'lie down' at her direction
- The animals come from a unique facility that breeds domesticated foxes
Snow baby: Anna the fox has lived with Russian scientist Irina Mukhamedshina since she was a cub. She understands as many commands as a pet dog
But Anna is no ordinary domesticated animal. She is an endearing and impeccably mannered fox who has been trained to live alongside humans.
The woman responsible for her unlikely transformation is Irina Mukhamedshina, a 22-year-old Russian scientist who adopted her and another fox called Elma from the Novosibirsk of Cytology and Genetics, which has studied how animals evolved from their feral ancestors to live alongside humans.
She saw animals at the institute, which began taming foxes in the 1950s and now has more than 50 generations in its breeding programme, waggling their tails and clamouring for human attention in the same way as dogs and wondered if they could also be trained like them.
Both her subjects were tiny cubs when they came to her but quickly grew into a companion that Irina views as halfway between a cat and a dog.
'I needed them to be young, because then I could use food motivation to train some basic commands,' Irina, an experienced dog trainer, told The Siberian Times.
Her first task was getting the animals to come close to her, a process she found easy.
After this she moved on to basic commands, which took the foxes three weeks of 15 minute sessions to master. They soon began to recognise their own names and would come to her for affection.
Her work attracted international fascination. A Japanese film crew recorded Irina's work with foxes and were amazed at her achievements.
She has now written an essay on her experiences and hopes to continue exploring the ways that foxes can be trained.
Some of the foxes, like Anna, have been sold to curious animal lovers.
Others have been sold to fur farms because they are less distressed in captivity.
She said: 'Psychologically I understand them better now. Tamed foxes are not quite like dogs, they are more in between dogs and cats in how they respond to humans.'
The Cytology and Genetics farm is in Akademgorodok, the academic region of Siberia's largest city, Novosibirsk. It is unique in the world as it has several hundred tamed foxes.
Its groundbreaking work began in the 1950s, when Soviet biologist Dmitry Belyaev gathered foxes from fur farms and bred the friendliest and least ferocious animals. He wanted to test a theory by Charles Darwin that domestication physically changes animals.
By the mid-1960s, the foxes had gone from wild to not fearing humans to actively seeking to befriend them. His team started to notice not only behavioural changes such as wagging their tails and licking their human caretakers to show affection, but also physical changes, such as spotted coats, floppy ears, and curled tails.
The effect has been dubbed the domestication phenotype. His research drew the ire of Cold War politicians, who saw genetics as a western science, and he was lucky to be able to continue his work until his death in 1985, when it was taken over by Irina’s mentor Dr Lyudmila Trut.
Redheads: Anna understands such basic commands as 'stand up', 'lie down' and 'sit' and responds to her own name when she is called
Pounce: Anna plays in the snow. She comes to humans for affection and is little different from any other pet
Experiment: Irina said that it was essential the foxes came to her when they were cubs so she could train them
Lie down: Training the foxes to obey basic commands took 15 minutes a day for three weeks, shocking Irina at how quickly the animals learned
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2239842/The-Fantastic-Mr-Fox-thinks-s-pet-dog.html#ixzz2DkDfzKN1
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