Researchers have found that Kangaroos can communicate with humans despite never being domesticated. The new findings suggest that behaviour of Kangaroos is no different from animals like dogs, horses or goats. The research found that the animals stared at a human when trying to gain access to food put in a sealed box.
Domestication is generally assumed to have resulted in enhanced communication abilities between non-primate mammals and humans, although the number of species studied is very limited. The study says in species without hands for pointing, gazing at humans when dealing with inaccessible food during an unsolvable task, and in particular gaze alternations between a human and the unsolvable task (considered forms of showing), are often interpreted as attempts at referential intentional communication or a request for help.
The study conducted by Alan G. McElligott of University of Roehampton who led the study concluded that “kangaroos, marsupial mammals that have never been domesticated, actively gazed at an experimenter during an unsolvable problem task (10/11 kangaroos tested), thus challenging the notion that this behaviour results from domestication.”
“Their gaze was pretty intense,” said co-author Dr Alexandra Green, a post-doctoral researcher in the Sydney School of Veterinary Science at University of Sydney. “We’ve previously thought only domesticated animals try to ask for help with a problem. But kangaroos do it too. If they can’t open the box, they look at the human and back to the container. Some of them used their nose to nudge the human and some approached the human and started scratching at him asking for assistance.”
Nine of the 10 kangaroos additionally showed gaze alternations between the unsolvable task and experimenter. The occurrence of these behaviours displayed towards humans has been underestimated, owing to a narrow focus on domestic animals, as well as a more general eutherian research bias.
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.
The study involved kangaroos at the Australian Reptile Park, Wildlife Sydney Zoo and Kangaroo Protection Co-Operative.