Kangaroos are capable of communicating with humans, new research finds

In the first study of its kind, the marsupials were found to actively seek out help from humans

An Australian grey kangaroo scratches its leg at Sydney's Taronga Zoo December 6, 2005. Australian farmers could protect crops and property from mobs of wild kangaroos by scaring them off with the thumping sound of the animals' own large feet on the ground, a new study said.
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Fans of the classic television show Skippy may have fantasised about having a kangaroo friend they could talk to growing up, but it turns out the concept might not be so far-fetched after all.

A new study has found that kangaroos are capable of intentionally communicating with humans, meaning the animal has a higher cognitive function than previously thought.

Researchers from the University of Sydney and the University of Roehampton in London presented kangaroos with a task which would require the help of humans to see how they would communicate.

The kangaroos were presented with food locked inside a sealed box which they were unable to open, and their behaviour with the researchers was then observed.

Dr Alexandra Green, a co-author of the study, said that rather than just give up, as some animals might, the kangaroos interacted with researchers, looking back and forth between them and the box, as well as approaching them.

“Some of them actually approached him 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,” she said.

The study's lead author, Dr Alan McElligott, said that the gaze demonstrated by kangaroos during this study was usually only witnessed in animals, which had been domesticated for more than hundreds of years.

“Indeed, kangaroos showed a very similar pattern of behaviour we have seen in dogs, horses and even goats when put to the same test,” he said.

Researchers hope the study, which was the first of its kind to be carried out with marsupials, will go some way in exploring the idea that all animals with enough brainpower are capable of interspecies communication.

“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 she hoped the study would help people to better understand kangaroos. “They aren’t considered as cuddly or cute as koalas, so sometimes kangaroos get a bad rap … there’s sort of a divide, while they’re an iconic Australian species, at the same time they’re overabundant, they’re culled and many consider them a pest,” she said.

“Hopefully, understanding that they’ve got these complex, cognitive skills will represent them in more positive light as well.”