Story at a glance

  • Researchers presented kangaroos with food trapped inside a plastic container.
  • When the animals tried, and failed, to open the container to access the food, the kangaroos gazed at researchers and back to the container as a way of pointing or gesturing toward the object.
  • “We’ve previously thought only domesticated animals try to ask for help with a problem. But kangaroos do it too,” researchers said.

A new study suggests non-domesticated kangaroos can intentionally communicate with humans similar to how domesticated animals such as dogs, horses or goats do. 

Researchers behind the study published in the journal Biology Letters on Wednesday set up a task known as “the unsolvable problem task,” in which kangaroos were presented with food trapped inside a plastic container. 


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When the animals tried, and failed, to open the container to access the food, the kangaroos gazed at researchers and back to the container as a way of pointing or gesturing toward the object. The study was conducted by researchers from London’s University of Roehampton and the University of Sydney. 

“Their gaze was pretty intense,” Alexandra Green, a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Sydney and a co-author of the study, said in a statement.  

“We’ve previously thought only domesticated animals try to ask for help with a problem. But kangaroos do it too. Some of them used their nose to nudge the human and some approached the human and started scratching at him asking for assistance,” Green said. 

The study involved 11 kangaroos that live in a number of zoos in Australia. While the animals are captive and familiar with humans, that are still considered non-domesticated as domesticated animals are selectively bred over generations to live alongside people. 

Ten of the 11 kangaroos gazed at researchers when unable to open the container of food, while nine showed a heightened form of communication by alternating their gaze between the container and the researcher. 

“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,” Alan McElligott, lead author of the study, said in a statement. 


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Published on Dec 16, 2020