When we humans want someone to hand us a donut, all we have to do is ask. Non-human primates can’t do that, but they can point and hope someone will understand them. Animals without hands have a harder time communicating, but they still sometimes manage it. Scientists have often interpreted animals gazing at humans as a means of communication. The animal gazes at a food, or alternates its gaze between the food and a person, to direct the person’s attention to the object. We’ve observed this behavior in domesticated animals such as dogs and goats, but never in a non-domesticated animal.
Now, scientists say they’ve seen kangaroos behaving in a similar way. In an experiment, the kangaroos were presented with a transparent plastic box with holes poked in it so the kangaroos could see and smell whatever was inside. In a series of trials, an experimenter put food in the box and then stood facing the kangaroo. Ten out of eleven kangaroos actively gazed at the experimenter after the experimenter put the food in the box, and nine out of the eleven gazed between the food and the experimenter, a more advanced form a communication.
Not all non-domesticated animals behave this way, and the kangaroos’ behavior might be explained by the fact that they’re social animals. The kangaroos in the study were also accustomed to humans, and the ones chosen to participate were particularly willing to approach the experimenters.
We’re all impressed by how far a kangaroo can jump. But maybe we should be more impressed by their ability to tell us they want a snack.