Kangaroos have the ability to intentionally communicate with humans, according to a new study, disproving the idea that this behavior is only seen in domesticated animals.
In a paper published by the University of Sydney and the University of Roehampton in London on Thursday, research showed that when a kangaroo was presented with an "unsolvable task" (a closed box with food inside) the animal gazed at the human researcher instead of trying to open the box themselves.
Dr. Alexandra Green, who co-authored the study, explained that the gesture of looking to the human for help suggests that the animal has a higher level of cognitive function than previously thought, The Guardian reported.
"Some of [the kangaroos] actually approached [the researcher] and started scratching at him and sniffing at him and then looking back at the box, so they were really trying to communicate with him," Green noted.
According to the study, this "gaze" behavior is typically only seen in domesticated animals.
"Indeed, kangaroos showed a very similar pattern of behavior we have seen in dogs, horses and even goats when put to the same test," lead author Dr. Alan McElligott said.
Green added, "Originally [researchers] thought it was a domesticated trait, but what we think is that instead of it being something that you’ve evolved with, it’s something that you can learn given the right environmental conditions. So in the zoo setting, where [kangaroos] are captive and around humans all the time, we think that they’ve learned to express this behavior."
The research was conducted with 11 kangaroos from differing species; this was the first research of its kind done with marsupials.
"Our research shows that the potential for referential intentional communication towards humans by animals has been underestimated … 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," McElligott said.
Green added that as "sometimes kangaroos get a bad rap," she hoped that this new research would increase their likeability.
"Hopefully, understanding that they’ve got these complex, cognitive skills will represent them in more positive light as well," she said.
Still, Green does not advise approaching kangaroos in the wild and trying to communicate with them.
"You most definitely should not," she said. "You read a bit about kangaroos attacking people, so yeah, I wouldn’t recommend it."
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