Ken Allen

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Ken Allen
Ken Allen orangutan.jpg
SpeciesBornean orangutan
Born(1971-02-13)February 13, 1971
San Diego Zoo
DiedDecember 1, 2000(2000-12-01) (aged 29)
Cause of deathprostate cancer
Known forEscaping from his enclosures repeatedly

Ken Allen (February 13, 1971 – December 1, 2000) was a Bornean orangutan at the San Diego Zoo. He became one of the most popular animals in the history of the zoo because of his many successful escapes from his enclosures. He was nicknamed "the hairy Houdini".[1][2]

Ken Allen was born in captivity at the San Diego Zoo in 1971. During the 1980s, Ken Allen gained worldwide attention for a series of three escapes from his enclosure, which had been thought to be escape-proof. During some of his escapes, his female companions would join him. Ken Allen's ability to outwit his keepers, as well as his docile demeanor during his escapes, resulted in fame. He had his own fan club, and was the subject of T-shirts and bumper stickers (most reading "Free Ken Allen"). A song, The Ballad of Ken Allen, was written about him.

Ken Allen developed prostate cancer and was euthanized on December 1, 2000.[3] He was 29 years old.


During his 1985 escapes, first on June 13, again on July 29, and finally on August 13, Ken Allen would peacefully stroll around the zoo looking at other animals. Ken never acted violently or aggressively towards zoo patrons or animals.

Zookeepers were initially stumped over how Ken Allen had managed to escape. Zoo staff began surveillance of his enclosure to try to catch him in the act, only to find that Ken Allen seemed to be aware that he was being watched. This forced zookeepers to go "undercover", posing as tourists to learn Ken Allen's escape route, but the ape was not fooled. Moreover, other orangutans began following Ken Allen's lead, escaping from their enclosure.[4] Zoo officials eventually[when?] hired experienced rock climbers to find every finger, toe, and foothold within the enclosure, spending $40,000 to eliminate the identified holds.

Time Magazine in 2011 listed Ken Allen's story as one of the Top Eleven Zoo Escapes.[1]


  1. ^ a b Silver, Alexandra (2013-06-24). "Top 11 Zoo Escapes". Time. ISSN 0040-781X. Retrieved 2018-12-25.
  2. ^ Middleton, Duncan (2016-08-07). "The missing lynx and five other animal escapees including Ken Allen the Orangutan". BBC Newsbeat. Retrieved 2018-12-25.
  3. ^ PERRY, TONY (2000-12-02). "San Diego Zoo's Beloved Escape-Artist Ape Dies". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved 2018-12-25.
  4. ^ Los Angeles Times, August 26, 1987, cited at pqarchiver

Further reading[edit]

  • "Popular San Diego Zoo orangutan dies of cancer", Associated Press Newswires, Associated Press, 1 December 2000, Factiva aprs000020010804dwc105h0e, retrieved 30 May 2011
  • Jefferson, David; Callahan, Bill (17 August 1985), "Ape's latest escape try foiled: Zoo discovers method to orangutan madness", The San Diego Union-Tribune, p. A-1, Factiva SDU0000020070702dh8h00907
  • Linden, Eugene (2000), The Parrot's Lament: And Other True Tales of Animal Intrigue, Intelligence, and Ingenuity, Penguin, ISBN 0-452-28068-0
  • Lubrano, Gina (31 July 1985), "A stool pigeon for orangutan?", The San Diego Union-Tribune, pp. B-5, Factiva SDU0000020070702dh7v00b0n
  • Osment, Noel (19 June 1985), "Holiday for Ken", The San Diego Union-Tribune, pp. C-2, Factiva SDU0000020070702dh6j00h64
  • Raffaele, Paul (2011), Among the Great Apes: Adventures on the Trail of Our Closest Relatives, HarperCollins, p. 305, ISBN 978-0-06-167184-5
  • Robinson, Phillip T. (2004), Life at the zoo: behind the scenes with the animal doctors, Columbia University Press, pp. 64–66, 76, ISBN 0-231-13248-4
  • Scarr, Lew (4 August 1985), "Ken-Allen, the Houdini of orangutans", The San Diego Union-Tribune, p. B-1, Factiva SDU0000020070702dh8400bbt
  • Scarr, Lew (14 August 1985), Orangutan throws a crowbar into Zoo's planning, pp. B-1:3, 5, 6, Factiva SDU0000020070702dh8e009de
  • Steinberg, James (2 December 2000), "Orangutan Ken Allen euthanized at S.D. Zoo: Beloved ape, 29, was renowned escape artist", The San Diego Union-Tribune, pp. B-1:1, 2, 7, B-3:2, Factiva sdu0000020010813dwc201cfi
  • Wilkens, John (26 December 1988), "Q: WHAT'S RED AND ESCAPES NINE TIMES? A: Ken Allen and the Zoo orangutans", The San Diego Union-Tribune, p. B.2, Factiva SDU0000020070630dkcq00i8d

External links[edit]