Zoo's Clues

The Detective Headquarters is open on Saturday, 10am - 2pm
weather dependent

You can print out your clue sheet or take one from the mailbox at Detective Headquarters at the zoo any time!

If you have questions or would like to submit your own mystery, e-mail us at


Super Sleuths Wanted
Greetings Detectives,

My name is Detective Clue Spotter the Otter, and I need YOUR help solving monthly mysteries! Study the evidence, engage in the suspense, observe the clues, and use your detective skills to unravel the mystery, all while learning about our natural world.

Are you ready to get started? Zoo’s Clues is a self-guided activity! All of the confidential materials you need are in the brown mailbox at our Detective Headquarters, located across from the elephant exhibit.

You can print out this month’s clue sheet (file on the right) from home if you want to get a head start!

At the end of the month we’ll post the case debrief below so you can learn even more information about the mysteries we’ve solved together.

Your pal,
Clue Spotter the Otter

Closed Cases

December Case Debrief 
Case:  Clue Spotter the Otter loves to learn! But since there is no school for otters, his keepers have to use another method to teach him new things. Can you follow the clues to figure out how keepers at Zoo Atlanta teach the animals behaviors that help us take care of them?

Status: Mystery Solved!
Answer: Training! The zookeepers use positive reinforcement training to teach the animals different behaviors that will help us to take good care of them in the Zoo.

Clue 1: The first clue was at the gorilla habitat. In this clue box you found a plush gorilla with some of the tools that doctors and veterinarians use, like a stethoscope, plastic syringe, and blood pressure cuff. There were also some grapes and pictures of a vet doing a check-up for a gorilla. Keepers at Zoo Atlanta teach the animals in their care behaviors that make daily care and veterinary procedures less stressful. 

  • All of the gorillas at Zoo Atlanta get annual flu vaccinations. Teaching the gorillas to press their shoulder or thigh against the mesh makes it much easier for our veterinarians to administer their flu shots.
  • Does your doctor ever give you a sticker or lollipop for being brave for your shots? We give our gorillas rewards for being good patients too! Some of their favorite treats are grapes, apples, and diluted fruit juice!

Clue 2:  This clue box was located at the tiger habitat. Inside, you found a clicker, a small plastic and metal device used to making a “clicking” sound to tell an animal they’ve done a good job and they are going to get a food treat! Animal participants get rewarded for successful ______ sessions with food. This is called positive reinforcement.

  • First, the keeper gives the animal a cue. For some animals, a cue might be a single word. Other animals might learn better with hand signals for cues.
  • If the animal produces the behavior requested by the keeper, they receive a reward! The reward is almost always food. For the tigers, their keepers use meat or diluted goat’s milk.
  • As soon as the animal starts the correct behavior, the keepers use a clicker or whistle to tell them they’ve done the right thing. This noise bridges the short gap of time between the behavior and the food reward.

Clue 3: The last clue was hidden away in the Elephant House. In this clue box, you found a canvas, paint, and paint brushes. You learned that our elephants, and many other animals, learn how to paint at the Zoo. Although this behavior is lots of fun, it required lots of ________ to encourage elephants Kelly and Tara to find their talent. ________ is a great form of cognitive enrichment for the residents of the Zoo, just like solving puzzles or riddles is exercise for our brains. But it is completely voluntary, so the animals decide whether or not to participate.

  • Elephants are extremely intelligent. Teaching Tara and Kelly new things is a fun way to keep their brains active and give them new problems to solve.

Put it all together
We learned that zookeepers use a special process to teach animals behaviors that will help them receive quality care in the Zoo. Animals can learn many behaviors, ranging from participating in vet exams and receiving vaccinations, to enrichment activities to keep them mentally stimulated, like painting! You learned that there are three steps to this process: the cue (keeper asks the animal to do something with verbal cues or hand signals), the behavior (the animal does the requested behavior), and the best part…the reward (the animal receives a treat)! You learned that this is all voluntary for the animals and they only participate if they want to. You also found out that keepers will use a “clicker” to tell the animals that they did a good job and they will be getting a food treat. What is this process of teaching the animals behaviors? It’s training!

Great job, Detectives! 

Your pal,

Clue Spotter the Otter

Skills you need to be a good Zoo detective:

  • The ability to observe. You should really take a good look at the clues provided. Look at clues from several angles and make note of any details on or about the clue. What is the clue or where did it come from? How does is fit with your knowledge and with the other clues provided? Every part of the clue will help you get one step closer to cracking the case.
  • Good memory. You should try to remember all clues provided and details of each to piece together an answer. Cross check each clue and then think how that might fit with your knowledge of animals.
  • Awareness of animal behavior, physical characteristics, and abilities is important. In order to solve some of our mysteries, you are going to need to know a little bit about animals. What do animals look like and what are their characteristics? Where do they live, what do they eat, (and what does their poop look like!), what are some of their behaviors, and what might be an animal’s motive for committing the crime?
  • Detectives are helpful, too. Not only do Zoo detectives want to help Detective Otter figure out “whodunit” but they are generally helpful to their neighbors, friends and to nature.