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Kangaroos actively communicate with humans

Kangaroos have their own way of expressing themselves to humans, according to a new study from University of Sydney. The research contradicts the idea that only domesticated animals like dogs and horses intentionally communicate with people.

“Kangaroos are iconic Australian endemic fauna, adored by many worldwide but also considered as a pest,” said study co-author Dr. Alexandra Green. “We hope that this research draws attention to the cognitive abilities of kangaroos and helps foster more positive attitudes towards them.”

The study was focused on wild kangaroos in three locations across Australia. The researchers discovered that when kangaroos were trying to access food in a closed box, they gazed at a human.  

The kangaroos consistently used a steady gaze to communicate with a person instead of attempting to open the box themselves. This type of behavior is usually associated with domesticated animals.

During the experiments, 10 out of 11 kangaroos actively looked at the person who had placed the food in the closed box, while 9 out of 11 kangaroos also alternated their gaze between the box and the human, which is a heightened form of communication.

The research builds on earlier studies that investigated whether intentional communication is a result of domestication in animals such as dogs and goats. 

Study lead author Dr Alan McElligott, a professor of Animal Behavior and Welfare at City University of Hong Kong, previously reported that goats can understand human cues to gather information about their environment. The latest findings indicate that, like goats, kangaroos adapt their social behaviors to interact with humans.

“Through this study, we were able to see that communication between animals can be learned and that the behavior of gazing at humans to access food is not related to domestication,” said Dr. McElligott. “Indeed, kangaroos – showed a very similar pattern of behavior 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.”

The study is published in the journal Biology Letters.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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