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Surprising! Study finds kangaroos can communicate with humans

Most of us know kangaroos as long jumpers. With their strong tail and powerful hind legs, they can surely make some nasty jumps, and when they feel threatened by another kangaroo, animal, or human, they don’t hesitate to use that tail and legs to do some damage. In a single bound, kangaroos can leap 9 meters. That’s quite impressive, don’t you think? 

Nevertheless, we are not here to discuss how powerful kangaroos are but to put light on a study that claims kangaroos can communicate with humans. Kangaroos are marsupials, which means they carry their young in a pouch. So, are they really a ‘social species’ and can communicate with humans? 

Researchers at the University of Roehampton and the University of Sydney studied kangaroos at three locations across the continent and found that these long jumpers are actually capable of ‘asking for help.’ During the study, the researchers found that kangaroos can use body language, similar to domesticated animals like dogs, goats, and horses, to communicate with humans. 

The conclusion was made after a kangaroo intently gazed at a human when trying to get its hands on food that was placed in a closed container instead of attempting to open the container itself. 

As per the report, species without hands for pointing gaze at humans when dealing with scenarios like shortage of food or inaccessibility to food during an unsolvable task. Particularly, they alternate the gaze between the unsolvable task and humans. Scientifically, this phenomenon is known as ‘referential intentional communication.’

Dr. Alexandra Green is a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Sydney in Sydney School of Veterinary Science. She co-authored the study with other researchers. Dr. Green said that instead of just giving up when they couldn’t open the food container, the kangaroos gazed at the researcher and then back to the food container. It was a gesture transcribed as a request for help, Dr. Green added. 

She claimed that the gaze was pretty intense, and they easily understood that the kangaroos want access to food. Before the study, it was thought that only domesticated animals like dogs, goats, and horses try to ask for help with a problem. But it turns out that kangaroos also communicate well with humans and can convey their emotions if there is any problem. If they cannot open the food container, they look at the human and back to the box. 

And this is not it. Some of the kangaroos even used their nose to nudge the human, while others approached the researcher and started scratching, asking for assistance. 

The lead author of the study, Dr. Alan McElligot, said their research discovered that communication between animals can be understood and learned and that the gesture of gazing or staring at humans to access food has nothing to do with domestication. 

According to Dr. McElligot, kangaroos showed the similar behavior and pattern that we see in dogs, goats, and horses. Dr. McElligot previously published a study that claimed that goats could perceive human gestures and cues. 

The research shows that we have underestimated the potential for referential intentional communication of animals towards humans. It is a signal towards an exciting development in this area. This is the first time that a marsupial has been studied in this manner, and the results are promising. Researchers believe that it could go beyond domesticated species. 

Who thought kangaroos would be intelligent creatures? This could mean that other marsupials like wallaroos and wallabies possess the same intelligence. Kangaroos are indigenous to Australia and are strictly herbivores. The fun fact is that they hardly release any methane, unlike other herbivores. 

The primary reason why this study is surprising is that wild species are not expected to behave as the test subjects behaved. The findings challenge the notion that only domesticated species can communicate with humans. 

Researchers are excited about finding other animal species that could grasp how to communicate with humans. If animals have the ability to convey meaning to humans, this will be a big breakthrough in science. However, at the moment, it is not possible to create an environment where wild animals and humans can interact. Kangaroos are exceptions because there are so many wildlife reserves and conservation centers where they are kept. Although wild, they constantly interact with humans. 

Dr. Green said that she is hopeful that the research would help the often maligned kangaroos gain the respect of the Australians. Kangaroos aren’t considered as cute or cuddly as koalas. They have a bad rap because there are incidents where kangaroos were seen attacking humans and their pets like dogs. Although they are an iconic indigenous Australian species, they are overabundant. Many consider them as pests, and some are culled. 

She believes since it is understood that kangaroos have got these complex cognitive skills, this will represent them in a more positive manner to the Australians as well as the world.

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