MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA » When they’re hungry, they’ll let you know by coming up to you and looking beseechingly at you and the container of food.
If that doesn’t work, they’ll sniff and paw at your leg.
No, we’re not talking about dogs. We’re talking about kangaroos.
Researchers at the University of Roehampton in Britain and the University of Sydney in Australia say that such behavior led them to a startling discovery: Kangaroos can communicate with humans similar to the way dogs, horses and goats do despite never having been domesticated.
Kangaroos are the first wild animal to exhibit a behavior that is more commonly seen in domesticated species, communicating requests for help from a human, the researchers said. Up until now, researchers had hypothesized that this kind of interspecies communication had existed only in animals that had evolved alongside humans.
The study suggests a higher level of intelligence in the Australian marsupials than had been assumed.
The researchers said they hoped the results would persuade people — especially Australians — to treat kangaroos with more care. Although they’re on the country’s coat of arms and are considered something of a national treasure, they’re also seen as a nuisance and are culled annually because of their overabundance.
The kangaroos used in the study — which was published Wednesday in Biology Letters, a peer-reviewed, scientific journal published by the Royal Society — weren’t fully wild, since that would have been dangerous to the researchers. They had been raised in zoos and were familiar with humans, but were still considered undomesticated.
McElligott said that in a similar study done with wolves, another undomesticated animal, the wolves simply attacked the food boxes with their teeth instead of communicating any requests to humans for help.
— © The New York Times Co.