Kangaroos Effectively Communicate with Humans, say Researchers

While this will be of no surprise for those people who regularly commune with nature and wildlife, it is still good to have the scientific evidence.  The results of a new study found that animals that have never been domesticated, such as kangaroos, can intentionally communicate with humans, challenging the notion that this behavior is usually restricted to domesticated animals like dogs, horses or goats.

Study overview

The research which involved kangaroos, marsupials that were never domesticated, at three locations across Australia, revealed that kangaroos gazed at a human when trying to access food which had been put in a closed box. The kangaroos used gazes to communicate with the human instead of attempting to open the box themselves, a behavior that is usually expected for domesticated animals.

Ten out of 11 kangaroos tested actively looked at the person who had put the food in a box to get it (this type of experiment is known as “the unsolvable problem task”). Nine of the 11 kangaroos additionally showed gaze alternations between the box and the person present, a heightened form of communication where they look between the box and human.

“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.”

-Dr. Alan McElligott

Journal Reference:  Alan G. McElligott, Kristine H. O’Keeffe, Alexandra C. Green. Kangaroos display gazing and gaze alternations during an unsolvable problem task. Biology Letters, 2020; 16 (12): 20200607 DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2020.0607