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The Welfare of Farmed Foxes Vulpes Vulpes and Alopex la Gopus in Relation to Housing and Management: A Review

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Foxes have been kept in captivity in Europe for the purpose of fur production for 70-80 years. In comparison with the main domesticated animal species, this is a very recent intervention. This paper reviews available evidence concerning the welfare of farmed foxes in relation to housing and management. The bulk of the literature relates to early handling of cubs, with the intention of reducing their subsequent fear of humans, and to simple changes in the cage environment that may provide environmental enrichment for foxes. Fear of humans appears to be a significant and pervasive problem, and the barrenness of cages is also a cause for concern. The extent of abnormal behaviours and reproductive failure, both indicative of quite severe welfare problems, is not sufficiently documented. Some housing and management practices are less detrimental than others; nonetheless, the evidence suggests that the welfare of farmed foxes is poor.
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... The blue fox, the blue colour morph of the Arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus) [1], is the most important farmed fox species in the world, with an annual production of more than 10 million pelts (in 2019) [2]. Foxes have been farmed for one century [3], and the relatively short domestication history, together with traditional housing in cages and management procedures, have raised concern over the welfare of farmed foxes [4]. Thus, alternative methods to strengthen the assessment of fox welfare are warranted. ...
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Welfare studies of blue foxes would benefit from a measurement of faecal cortisol metabolites (FCMs) as a non-invasive, physiological stress parameter reflecting hypothalamus–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis activity. Before implementation, a species-specific validation of such a method is required. Therefore, we conducted a physiological validation of an enzyme immunoassay (EIA) to measure FCMs in blue foxes. Twenty individuals (nine males and eleven females) were injected with synthetic adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH) and faecal samples were collected every third h for two days. The FCM baseline levels were assessed based on the first sampling day (control period, 144 samples), followed by the ACTH injection and the second day of sampling (treatment period, 122 samples). FCMs were analysed with a 5α-pregnane-3ß,11ß,21-triol-20-one EIA. We compared the estimated mean FCM concentrations of the treatment samples to the baseline average. All samples for the two periods were collected at the same time of the day, which enabled to test the data also with an hourly pairwise comparison. With the two statistical approaches, we tested whether a possible diurnal fluctuation in the FCM concentrations affected the interpretation of the results. Compared to the baseline levels, both approaches showed 2.4–3.2 times higher concentrations on time points sampled 8–14 h after the ACTH injection (p < 0.05). The estimated FCM concentrations also fluctuated slightly within the control period (p < 0.01). Inter-individual variations in FCM levels were marked, which highlights the importance of having a sufficient number of animals in experiments utilising FCMs. The sampling intervals of 3 h enabled forming of informative FCM curves. Taken together, this study proves that FCM analysis with a 5α-pregnane-3ß,11ß,21-triol-20-one EIA is a valid measurement of adrenocortical activity in the farmed blue foxes. Therefore, it can be utilised as a non-invasive stress indicator in future animal welfare studies of the species.
... Silver foxes are black colour variants of the red fox (Vulpes vulpes) that are cage housed in outdoor barns for the commercial production of pelts. Fur production often attracts public debates centred on ethical concerns and claims that the animals' basic needs and welfare are not sufficiently maintained (Nimon and Broom, 2001;Norwegian Food Safety Authority, 2009). Scientific research on farmed fox behaviour and welfare has been conducted since 1946 (Pearson and Basset, 1946) focussing on several aspects of the housing environment (space, e.g. ...
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Measuring glucocorticoid metabolites in faeces has proven a useful, non-invasive method to monitor adrenocortical activity in several farm and wild species. Unlike plasma cortisol, whose sampling requires restraint and blood draws, faecal cortisol metabolites (FCM) may be particularly suitable for farmed silver foxes as these animals are sensitive to handling by humans. Prior to using FCM as a potential indicator of stress in silver foxes, however, a proper physiological and/or biological validation is required. Here, we determined FCM concentrations in 30 silver foxes (10 adult vixens, 10 juvenile females and 10 juvenile males) every alternate hour for 24 h after 1) an increase in cortisol induced by injection with synthetic ACTH (hereafter ACTH), and 2) a 2 min period of handling and restraint. Baseline FCM values, recorded every fourth hour for 24 h before the ACTH and handling treatments, served as controls. FCM values increased significantly following ACTH injection (P=0.0001) and handling (P<0.0001). The time to reach peak FCM concentrations after ACTH injection tended to differ between groups (P=0.055) averaging (± SE) 11.0 ± 1.04, 10.6 ± 1.30 and 7.8 ± 0.20 hours for vixens, juvenile females and juvenile males, respectively. After handling, peak FCM values were reached after 10.1 ± 0.68 hours with no significant differences between groups. Peak concentrations averaged 2143 ± 264 ng/g after the ACTH and 1008 ± 128 ng/g after handling, compared to 475 ± 48 ng/g for baseline levels. Peak FCM values tended to vary between individuals more in females than in males. Baseline FCM concentrations prior to handling were, unexpectedly, higher in more confident foxes (P=0.004), a finding perhaps indicating a potential preparative role of cortisol in silver foxes. There was also a negative trend between foxes’ confidence and their times to reach peak FCM concentrations after handling (P=0.06), suggestive of a prolonged adrenocortical activation in more fearful individuals. Based on the rates that foxes produce faecal samples and the times to reach maximum FCM concentrations, we suggest a four hour delay to first faeces collection, before collecting samples every third hour the next 12 following hours to monitor elevations after an acute stressor. Our study confirms faecal cortisol metabolites as a valid indicator of adrenocortical activity in farmed silver foxes.
... Aggressive foxes were selected for aggressive behaviour and can attack humans (Trut 1980(Trut , 2001Kukekova et al. 2008aKukekova et al. , 2008b. Unselected foxes were not deliberately selected for behavior and demonstrate aggressively fearful behavior to humans (Pedersen and Jeppesen 1990;Pedersen 1991Pedersen , 1993Pedersen , 1994Trut 1999;Nimon and Broom 2001;Kukekova et al. 2008aKukekova et al. , 2008bGogoleva et al. 2010c). In the presence of an unfamiliar human, the Unselected fox with its wild type attitudes toward people enlarges the animal-human distance and shows escape responses (Supplementary movies 1-3). ...
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The ability to identify emotional arousal in heterospecific vocalizations may facilitate behaviors that increase survival opportunities. Crucially, this ability may orient inter-species interactions, particularly between humans and other species. Research shows that humans identify emotional arousal in vocalizations across multiple species, such as cats, dogs and piglets. However, no previous study has addressed humans’ ability to identify emotional arousal in silver foxes. Here, we adopted low and high arousal calls emitted by three strains of silver fox - Tame, Aggressive and Unselected - in response to human approach. Tame and Aggressive foxes are genetically selected for friendly and attacking behaviors toward humans, respectively. Unselected foxes show aggressive and fearful behaviors toward humans. These three strains show similar levels of emotional arousal, but different levels of emotional valence in relation to humans. This emotional information is reflected in the acoustic features of the calls. Our data suggest that humans can identify high arousal calls of Aggressive and Unselected foxes, but not of Tame foxes. Further analyses revealed that, although within each strain different acoustic parameters affect human accuracy in identifying high arousal calls, spectral center of gravity, harmonic-to-noise ratio and F0 predict humans’ ability to discriminate high arousal calls and that spectral center of gravity across all strains. Furthermore, we identified in spectral center of gravity and fundamental frequency the best predictors for humans’ absolute ratings of arousal in each call. Implications for research on the adaptive value of interspecific eavesdropping are discussed.
... It first should be understood that there is no consensus in animal welfare science on the ethics or desirability of keeping of fur animals. The two sides of the argument for farming mink have been discussed by Vinke (2001) and Nimon and Broom (1999), and foxes by Nimon and Broom (2001). Neither of course is there any consensus on the ethics of keeping of any groups of animals by humans. ...
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The discussion of the ethics of fur farming is currently important in Estonia, where the Estonian Parliament is due to make a judgement on the legality of farming animals for fur in the state. Although there is significant opposition among the local general population, and discussion in the popular and social media, there is little evidence of a coherent ethical reason why fur animals should not be farmed while we continue to permit the farming of other livestock animals. Ethical viewpoints of the rights and welfare of animals are presented here and these are contextualised with regard to fur farming and fur farming in Estonia in particular.
... One of the key opinions in both ethical and scientific discussions of animal welfare is that animals should be maintained under conditions that support good biological functioning in the sense of health, growth and reproduction [1]. When reproductive dysfunction is apparent at the population level, it raises concerns about the potential negative impacts housing and management factors may have on the biological systems that regulate these functions [2,3]. Reproductive problems facing North American populations of Asian and African elephants are well documented and, for African elephants, a primary cause of poor reproduction is a high rate of ovarian acyclicity [4,5]. ...
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As part of a multi-institutional study of zoo elephant welfare, we evaluated female elephants managed by zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and applied epidemiological methods to determine what factors in the zoo environment are associated with reproductive problems, including ovarian acyclicity and hyperprolactinemia. Bi-weekly blood samples were collected from 95 African (Loxodonta africana) and 75 Asian (Elephas maximus) (8-55 years of age) elephants over a 12-month period for analysis of serum progestogens and prolactin. Females were categorized as normal cycling (regular 13- to 17-week cycles), irregular cycling (cycles longer or shorter than normal) or acyclic (baseline progestogens
... For instance, infanticide in fur farmed silver foxes (Braastad and Bakken 1993) and crushing of piglets by confined sows (Shankar et al. 2009;Rutherford et al. 2013) are common causes of infant mortality. Infanticide in primiparous vixens has been linked with stress and poor environment (Nimon and Broom 2001) although this connection is still disputed (Akre et al. 2008). Even though infanticide does occur in the wild at an unknown rate, vixens in standard nest-boxes kill their offspring more frequent than vixens in enriched tunnel-boxes (European Commission 2001) implicating the husbandry system. ...
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