A Statement Regarding Pet Foxes
The terms "pet fox" and "exotic pet" mean little in reality but can conjure very strong emotional reactions in people when mentioned. Here, we will address the two main types of fox kept privately in the UK as companion animals and animal ambassadors:
- The non-native domesticated silver fox - A farm animal that has been intensively bred for it's fur since the late 1800's. While the UK no longer farm fur, the silver fox is still bred here for companionship and education. The terms "farmed silver fox" and "North American farmed fox" are much more apt for it's description, allowing the other party an opportunity to gain a better understanding of the situation and the animal in question.
- The native wild red fox - Which man can legally kill as part of land management practices in the UK, is also kept in captivity by organisations and private individuals when rehabilitation and release are not possible. The terms "rescued red fox" and "rescued wild fox" are much more suitable for foxes that fall within this category. In contrast to the European red fox, the sparse populations of native North American red fox (or Montane foxes) are so threatened, that they are offered support under species protection laws.
Both farmed silver foxes and rescued red foxes could be described as "pet foxes" or "exotic pets" when kept at home by an individual for the purpose of education and/or companionship. And while the age-old rhetoric "they belong in the wild" may seem the ideal response to the situation, the reality is, that neither type of fox mentioned above can legally be released from captivity and someone needs to take responsibility for their captive welfare.
In general, those rare few people who do decide to dedicate their lives to the care of a fox, do so because they want to learn more about them, because they want to assist them in times of need and because they want to help raise awareness of the plights of their kind. While fox keepers may refer to such animals using the word "pet", the term is used because they endear the animal they keep. It is the word we use to describe an animal that makes us feel this way.
For private keepers, these foxes are not a farm animal, a wild animal or a tool. They have become a member of the family.
"Love, you see, Changes us"
The Keeping of Silver Foxes in the UK
Keeping silver foxes is a legal, specialist hobby for those with specific interests in exotic animal management, welfare and behaviour. Silver foxes are extremely difficult to manage compared to other animals and their behavioural needs are complex. They are not like cats or dogs but are in fact, uniquely vulpine.
They are tenacious animals that have behaviour towards man that differs slightly from that of their wild kin. There are also several things that cannot be portrayed correctly, without the other party having met a silver fox first hand - from their possessiveness and destructive tendencies to their independence and how strong they smell.
But aren't they domesticated?
Farm foxes are not domesticated for behaviour like those of the Russian experiment, instead they have been domesticated for their fur only.
No-one would recommend keeping a silver fox as a pet, even those that keep them. It takes a special sort of person to dedicate their life to ensuring the welfare of such an animal. But for those rare few, it's possible for a mutually beneficial relationship to be nurtured.
So why do people keep silver foxes?
Man's history is intertwined with the stewardship and domestication of animals, including foxes. Today, the keeping of silver foxes comes in many forms; be it for farming, research, as educational ambassadors or as a pet. There are many reasons why any of these groups may keep these animals, but quite simply; because they exist, because they need homes and because people can.
Should people keep silver foxes?
We do not have an answer to that question, as there is much that needs to be taken into consideration. At Black Foxes UK we accept they exist and that people can, that there are benefits and downsides to doing so, which is true for every species man keeps. We only hope those who choose to keep silver foxes, do so responsibly and with the highest welfare goals in mind.
As part of man's responsibility towards any species kept (for any reason), the provision of information, education and support systems are necessary to ensure the highest welfare of the animals involved. The information and support systems necessary to ensure silver fox welfare are severely lacking, but this is where we aim to assist.
What is the future of the domesticated silver fox?
We do not know, but if the silver fox is to continue to exist, why can't it exist for education and companionship instead of for farming or research (providing good welfare can be maintained)?
The alternative would be to cease keeping them. If man was to cease breeding and keeping this domesticated animal, it would mean it's extinction - as is thought to have occurred with at least three other species of domesticated fox throughout history, including:
(Foxes were also kept as pets at the elite Winchester College, for the better part of two hundred years).
After all the silver fox has done for mankind, calling for it's extinction doesn't seem right. While we do feel their place is limited and that keeping silver foxes ought to be a licensed activity (as occurs in other parts of the world), we feel strongly that they are owed some place within our society.
"You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed"
Please visit our Glossary, for clarification of the terms commonly used with silver foxes.