Ken Allen

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Ken Allen

Ken Allen (1971–2000) was a Bornean orangutan at the San Diego Zoo. He became one of the most popular animals in the history of the San Diego 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. In 1988, the Wall Street brokerage firm Alex Brown & Company made a sizeable donation to the zoo and requested they name their "ugliest" orangutan after one of the firms equity traders. [3] (A conflicting source says Ken Allen was named after two zookeepers[4]) 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. 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 cancer and was euthanized in December 2000.[5] He was 29 years old.


During his escapes, first on June 13, 1985, again on July 29, 1985, and on August 13, 1985, Ken Allen would peacefully stroll around the zoo looking at other animals, and never acted violently or aggressively towards zoo patrons or other 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 for that very purpose. This forced zookeepers to go "undercover", posing as tourists to learn Ken Allen's escape route, but Ken Allen was not fooled. Moreover, other orangutans began following Ken Allen's lead and began escaping from the enclosure.[6] Zoo officials eventually[when?] hired experienced rock climbers to find every finger, toe, and foothold within the enclosure and spent $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. ^ "Wall Street Journal". May 25, 1988.
  4. ^ Missing or empty |title= (help)
  5. ^ PERRY, TONY (2000-12-02). "San Diego Zoo's Beloved Escape-Artist Ape Dies". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved 2018-12-25.
  6. ^ Los Angeles Times, August 26, 1987, cited at pqarchiver

Further reading[edit]

  • Associated Press (1 December 2000), "Popular San Diego Zoo orangutan dies of cancer", Associated Press Newswires, 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]