Are Kangaroos Smart?

Kangaroos are a widely popular marsupial, we all know them for being tough yet cute, but the question remains, are they smart?

To answer that question, yes kangaroos are very smart animals. When researched, they’ve shown intelligent behavior in many different scenarios.

In a more recent study, researchers found that kangaroos displayed high levels of cognitive function through communicating with humans for food.

There’s also many other situations, especially in the wild, where kangaroos demonstrate excellent instinct and survival skills. Particularly when they will lure predators that are chasing them out to the water and drown them. Pretty smart, right? 

We are going to be looking at the question of ‘are kangaroos smart?’ in more depth in this article, and we’ll try to answer your burning questions surrounding kangaroos and how they display their intelligence. 

Why Do We Think That Kangaroos Are Smart? 

Kangaroos are usually considered to be quite stupid by many, partly in thanks to their ‘deer in headlights’ act, where they’ll freeze in front of cars.

But much like deers, kangaroos freeze because the headlights are actually blinding them and they struggle to see, and since kangaroos hop and only move in one direction, they need to be able to see the next spot to hop to so they can see where they will be landing.

A car with blinding headlights doesn’t allow them to see this next spot to land, so they’ll often just freeze up. 

Obviously, kangaroos aren’t as smart as us humans, but they do exhibit a few attributes that make their intelligence stand out amongst other animals in the wild.

Many researchers and wildlife enthusiasts have long been interested in how smart kangaroos actually are, and they carried out many experiments and studies and this is what they found.

Kangaroos Can Actually Communicate With Humans

Wait, so kangaroos can talk now? 

No, not in the sense you’re thinking anyway. More so in the way that dogs and cats can communicate to us, which becomes even more interesting when you realize that kangaroos aren’t domesticated.

A group of scientists wanted to study this in more depth, so they started an experiment. This experiment was carried out on 10 kangaroos, all from a zoo in Australia, and the kangaroos were a little bit domesticated, just so they didn’t pose a threat to the researchers. 

The experiment consisted of locking the kangaroo in a box (see also: Why Do Kangaroos Box Each Other?)with food and a single researcher.

The experiment showed that after a while, if the kangaroo couldn’t open the box itself, it would resort to asking the researcher for help, much like how your dog would give you cues to let you know they’re hungry or they need to go outside. 

The researcher explained that the kangaroo made subtle gestures to him by looking from the box, to the researcher and then they would begin to stroke their legs and hands. 

A scientist who specializes in animal behavior explained that this was their way of communicating what they need to humans.

Just to give you some depth in case you don’t understand how intelligent this is for kangaroos, the same experiment was done on wolves and the wolves resorted to tearing the box apart. 

Kangaroos Have A Terrific Defensive Strategy

Let’s branch off from domesticated kangaroos and head to the wild, you may be wondering if they exhibit the same intelligence when away from humans and up against the wild.

Luckily for the kangaroo, most of their main predators have gone extinct, like the Tasmanian tiger, marsupial lion, the wonambis etc, but that doesn’t mean that they’re still not hunted.

They are sometimes under threat from dogs, dingoes and even humans and of course, like most prey being chased by a predator, they run – but they don’t stop there.

Kangaroos don’t particularly like swimming, and you’d probably think with their small forelimbs that they’re not very capable swimmers, but that’s where you’re wrong.

Kangaroos are in fact excellent swimmers and have a brilliant swimming technique that utilizes its forelimbs to dog paddle and its broad feet to propel themselves forward. 

When being chased by a predator, a kangaroo’s first instinct is to of course run, but also to locate a nearby water source. The kangaroo will then lead the predator right to the water and use their forelimbs to drown them.

Pretty brutal, but you do what you can to survive in the wild! 

Kangaroos Are Social Butterflies

Intelligence often lies in how social an animal is, since of course, emotional intelligence is often the biggest indicator of how smart a person can be.

Not every single animal that stays within a group will be smarter than a solitary animal, but it’s definitely true for the kangaroo and their social structure definitely affects their cognitive abilities positively. 

Kangaroos will usually live in a group that consists of 10 or more individuals, and the most dominant male will lead the group.

Kangaroos have a few ways to build relationships, like nose touching or sniffing and by simply producing ‘clicking’ sounds when they’re happy and being affectionate.

Kangaroos also have a unique way of exerting dominance or trying to win over a mate, and you’ve probably heard of it before – boxing.

Boxing is typically seen amongst the groups of kangaroos, and most of the time the older kangaroos will come out victorious, since male kangaroos never stop growing. 

Final Thoughts

Even though many people believe that kangaroos are dumb animals that like to jump out in front of cars for fun, they’re actually pretty smart.

You probably wouldn’t expect it, but they show a lot of intelligence in the form of communication with humans, their defense tactics and how they live amongst groups that have social structure which positively affects their cognitive function. 

There’s still many more studies and experiments to be done to test just how smart a kangaroo is, but for now it’s safe to say that kangaroos are more than big muscly marsupials, they are smart too!

Olivia Kepner