Kangaroos communicate with humans in similar way to domesticated animals – study


Kangaroos can communicate with humans despite never being domesticated, according to a new study.

Researchers say their findings challenge the notion that this behaviour is usually restricted to animals like dogs, horses or goats.

The research looked at kangaroos at three locations across Australia and found that the animals gazed at a human when trying to access food placed in a closed box.

The kangaroos used gazes to communicate with the human instead of attempting to open the box themselves, a behaviour that is usually expected for domesticated animals, the scientists say.

Lead author Dr Alan McElligott, who conducted the study at the University of Roehampton (now based at City University of Hong Kong), said: "Through this study, we were able to see that communication between animals can be learnt and that the behaviour of gazing at humans to access food is not related to domestication.

"Indeed, kangaroos showed a very similar pattern of behaviour we have seen in dogs, horses and even goats when put to the same test.

"Our research shows that the potential for referential intentional communication towards humans by animals has been underestimated which signals an exciting development in this area.

"Kangaroos are the first marsupials to be studied in this manner and the positive results should lead to more cognitive research beyond the usual domestic species."

According to the study published in Biology Letters, 10 out of the 11 kangaroos that were tested – actively looked at the person who had put the food in a box to get it.

Nine of the 11 kangaroos additionally showed a heightened form of communication where they looked between the box and human.

The research builds on previous work in the field which has looked at the communication of domesticated animals, such as dogs and goats, and whether intentional communication in animals is a result of domestication.

Dr McElligott previously led a study that found goats can understand human cues, including pointing, to gather information about their environment.

Like dogs and goats, kangaroos are social animals and the new research suggests that they may be able to adapt their usual social behaviours for interacting with humans.

Dr Alexandra Green at the University of Sydney said: "Kangaroos are iconic Australian endemic fauna, adored by many worldwide but also considered as a pest.

"We hope that this research draws attention to the cognitive abilities of kangaroos and helps foster more positive attitudes towards them."

The study involved kangaroos at the Australian Reptile Park, Wildlife Sydney Zoo and Kangaroo Protection Co-Operative.