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Kangaroos Are Like Dogs in One Important Way

Study shows they can communicate with people, possibly a first in undomesticated animals
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 18, 2020 11:43 AM CST

(Newser) – It's not just domesticated animals that can communicate with people. A first-of-its-kind study shows kangaroos can do the same thing. Researchers from the University of Roehampton in England and the University of Sydney in Australia presented 11 kangaroos from a variety of Australian zoos with an "unsolvable problem task," which took the form of a locked plastic container holding food. Though familiar with humans, these kangaroos are still considered undomesticated. Realizing they couldn't get at the food without help, 10 of the kangaroos "actively" looked at study author Alan McElligott, who'd handled the container, while nine kangaroos looked between the container and McElligott, reports the New York Times. The latter move is "a heightened form of communication," per a release.

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"We've previously thought only domesticated animals try to ask for help with a problem," Alexandra Green, co-author of the study published Wednesday in Biology Letters, tells CNN. But some kangaroos actually "used their nose to nudge [McElligott] and some approached [him] and started scratching at him asking for assistance." The kangaroos showed "a very similar pattern of behavior we have seen in dogs, horses and even goats," says McElligott, who notes a group of wolves attacked the containers without any type of request for help. It's thought that the kangaroos learned to adapt social cues for dealing with humans as they are a social species. But McElligott believes "the potential for referential intentional communication towards humans by animals has been underestimated" and hopes to see similar research performed with other wild animals. (Read more kangaroos stories.)

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