Alex Xu Electrical and Computer Engineering @ Duke University

Aye-aye Lemur Enrichment Feeder

2018-2019, Duke University/Duke Lemur Center

Aye-ayes are nocturnal lemurs native to Madagascar, and utilize a bioacoustic feedback system for foraging and feeding. Since a significant percentage of an aye-aye’s diet consists of insect larvae that dwell inside dead or living trees, aye-ayes have developed long, skeletal middle fingers that they use to tap upon branch surfaces. Then they use their ears to search for characteristic echoing sounds which may indicate the location of an insect tunnel. Next, they tear off chunks of outer bark until the insect tunnel is revealed. Finally, aye-ayes use their slender middle fingers to hook insect larvae.

The Duke Lemur Center houses nine of only 24 captive aye-ayes in the United States. According to U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations, primates held in captivity must be provided enrichment for their psychological well-being. Stimulation prevents the development of stereotypies, depression, lack of appetite, etc. The design challenge for this project was to create a novel enrichment feeding device to be used for aye-aye lemurs housed at the Duke Lemur Center, to replace their current device.

As an engineering design team, we were able to design and prototype an enrichment feeder for aye-ayes in the Duke Lemur Center that is cheaper and more stimulating than the current device. The design solution is a metal puzzle feeder that has a system of tunnels that can be rearranged, thus creating variability and increasing enrichment. This also mimics aye-aye tap-foraging behavior in the wild, while still allowing for integration with the lemur center’s existing infrastructure and workflow (including mounting, sanitation).