3D Parts Help Cincinnati Zoo Animals Feel At Home

May 28, 2020

Interaction with a fake tree trunk is helping the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden encourage natural foraging behaviors with meerkats and more.

The artificial stump is really a 3D printed part made by GE Additive - before COVID-19 - in collaboration with the zoo. More designs for other animals are expected in this pro bono project.

The challenge is to extend the time birds and small mammals consume live insects. Zoo Animal Excellence Manager David Orban says when the keepers give them insects they eat them in a matter of five to 10 minutes. "We've had the idea to create a more complex feeder that will extend foraging duration, in turn, extending animals' physical activity and mental stimulation, leading to more naturally behaving wildlife," he explains.

Using data collected by the zoo, engineers from GE Additive AddWorks, including lead engineer Shannon Jagodinski, discussed the design feasibility and came up with a few ideas. Ultimately, the zoo picked the one they thought would have the biggest benefit to the broadest group of animals.

It's made using recycled titanium powder

How It Works

The outside of the device looks like a tree trunk with a bark-like texture. The inside of the feeder has an enclosure to house crickets. It's connected to tubes that exit the device at a variety of points. Because the tubes have varying exit times, crickets will be available to the animals at different times.

CAD model of metal 3D-printed cricket feeder.
Credit Courtesy of GE Additive

Is It Working?

"We have seen that foraging time and the animals' investigation and interaction last for up to a few hours in our tests compared to a few minutes, which is really exciting for us because that means we can utilize it multiple times a day and in different habitats," Orban says.

You'll be able to see inside the 3D-printed part at the zoo. GE Additive has a demo piece in which a portion of the bark exterior is removed to expose the complex and intricate internal passageways.

The device is installed at the Discovery Rainforest.