A group of orangutans playing with the Modupipe device in a zoo enclosure.


Modupipe for Orangutans


Interaction Design


San Diego Zoo




Since the Spring of 2019, I've been working with Animal Welfare Specialists at San Diego Zoo to create enriching experiences for  captive animals and their wild conspecifics. During that time, I’ve developed a modular feeding system called Modupipe which provides Great Apes with behavioral opportunities that are cognitively challenging, provoke species-specific behaviors, and nurture measures of choice and control.


Modupipe is designed for zoo environments, which over the last 100 years have emerged from places of public entertainment to organizations of scientific research and conservation. In the light of current ecological transformations and the associated extensive extinction of species, zoos play a critical role in the preservation of our planet’s biodiversity.

Examples of tool use behavior performed by great apes such as chimpanzees, orangutans, and bonobos.


Modupipe is based on tool-use behaviors that are natural to a variety of primates such as Orangutans, Chimpanzees, Bonobos, Gorillas or Macaques. A tool-using performance in an animal is specified as the use of an external object as a functional extension of mouth or beak, hand or claw, in the attainment of an immediate goal. This goal may be related to the obtaining of food, care of the body, or repulsion of a predator.


The Modupipe system is designed to stimulate exploration and problem-solving behavior and consists of differently shaped PVC modules that are very light, inexpensive and highly resistant. The different modules can be joined together to form individual tubes of different shapes and lengths that can be freely and three-dimensionally built into animal enclosures.


Basic Modules

These are the basic modules of Modupipe. Each module features a milled slot, adapted to the respective moulding line that allows animal users to access and move food items through the device by means of a tool such as a wooden stick.

The basic straight module of the Modupipe.
The basic 45-degree module of the Modupipe.
The basic 'T' module of the Modupipe
The basic 90-degree module of the Modupipe.


Food Dispenser

The food dispenser encourages animal users to employ tool-use behavior in order to independently load the device.

In that way, the food dispenser turns animal users into active participants in their environments and provides them with opportunities to effect change through their own behavior.

This level of choice and control, is known to help animals regulate emotional responses to stressful situations, and influences their overall mood, quality of life, and longevity.

A custom food dispenser module of the Modupipe that enables animal users to independently load the Modupipe with snacks.



The Gate modules introduce the concept of multi-tasking to the Modupie, and activate cognitive mechanisms such as problem solving and decision making in animal users.

In captive environments, the moderation of challenge is an important goal. The Gate modules may induce stress, but are potentially solvable or escapable through the application of cognitive and behavioral skills, and can therefore be seen as appropriate challenges.

A gate module of the Modupipe that introduces problem solving and multi-tasking.
A gate module of the Modupipe that introduces problem solving and multi-tasking.


Bolt Clamp + Shaft Collar

The combination of the Bolt Clamp and the Shaft Collar facilitates a flexible and rigid installation of the device, which was particularly important to the animal keepers.

A rendering of a bolt clamp and shaft collar that allow for an easy installation of the Modupipe.

In the summer of 2019 I was invited to San Diego to build and test my device with a group of 🦧 at the zoo. Below are some impressions of that time.

Impressions from the trip to San Diego during which Max prototyped a version of the Modupipe.

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