You might think that orangutans are hairy primates that just hang around in the wild, eating fruit, climbing trees and swinging on the branches. But what you don’t know is that these goofy animals are actually very good at moving without being seen!
Well… maybe not all orangutans can do that, but this one from the San Diego Zoo is a great escapist! His name is Ken Allen and he uses his brain to escape from his enclosure and walk around the facility. Since then, he was known as the notorious escape artist: Harry Houdini. Or should we say Hairy Houdini? Let’s see his story!
20. Born at the Zoo
When Ken Allen was born in 1971 at the San Diego Zoo, he had to be separated from his mother, because it seemed that she would smother him. So, to save him, Ken Willingham and Ben Allen took him out.
19. An Honor
To honor the names of his rescuers, the baby orangutan was then named Ken Allen. The baby orangutan adapted to his new home and to be visited by the zookeepers. But then, even being well-mannered, he developed a habit… And it’s unbelievable!
18. Roaming the Zoo
As a baby, Ken Allen learned all by himself to unscrew the bolts from the cage and then roam the zoo. However, he was easy to catch at that time. But wait until you hear what happened when he became a teenager!
17. June 13, Teenage Years
Ken Allen was 14 years old teenager when his escapades became truly notorious! One night, when the Zoo was still open, Ken Allen climbed the wall of his enclosure and just started walking around the zoo… And that’s not all!
16. And Then Again…
Ken was able to strut for a few minutes around the zoo when the staff noticed him and finally managed to take him back to the enclosure. But who would think that Ken Allen would grow used to it and make it a habit?
15. Reaching the News
The PR team at the zoo was worried about Ken Allen’s escapes bringing a bad image to the zoo. And the escape artist’s shenanigans did reach the news, but the impact was different than expected…
14. A Folk Hero
On the contrary, Ken Allen became a star or a folk hero. People were so amazed to hear the orangutan’s story, that they even made shirts saying ‘Free Ken Allen’, they made bumpers with the slogan to put on their cars! Someone even wrote a song!
13. ‘The Ballad of Ken Allen’
A musician even wrote a song about the escapist artist called ‘The Ballad of Ken Allen’. In the meanwhile, officials at the zoo did their best to contain their goofy ape. You won’t believe what they did!
12. Tons of Precautions
Nothing could stop Ken Allen! The officials dig a moat, built a 4 feet wall behind it and still, two weeks after that, Ken managed to climb the wall and pay a visit to a fellow orangutan… We couldn’t stop laughing!
11. Take This!
This time Ken Allen knew what to do instead of just roaming the zoo. He went to visit another orangutan named Otis. But instead of being the well-mannered ape, Ken threw rocks at Otis! Two weeks after that, he did this romantic thing…
10. A Gift For the Lady
Two weeks after throwing rocks at Otis, Ken escaped again and found a branch in the zoo, which he offered to another orangutan called Vicky. And then, he used the branch to open the exit to the enclosure, freeing his darling lady!
9. No Risks Anymore
The zoo officials were concerned, so they spent thousands of dollars to improve the enclosure and make it inescapable! They even hired people that were professional rock climbers to check if Ken could climb the walls.
8. Hairy Houdini
That’s when people started calling Ken Allen ‘Hairy Houdini’, after the great escape artist. And Ken was quite the smart orangutan. Whenever zoo staff was around, he didn’t try to escape. But they went undercover and guess what?
7. Undercover Mission
The staff at the zoo started dressing in regular to trick Ken, but their plan didn’t work. When they weren’t looking, he would again escape! Extra precautions were added to the enclosure: an electric fence.
6. Adding an Electric Fence
Around his enclosure, the zookeepers added an electric fence. Ken tried to escape again, but as he made it to the top, he retreated when touching the wire. Will he finally be stopped? Not really!
5. He’s Out Again!
When the officials thought it was done, two years after the last escape, they turned off the moat pump for a bit. Then, Ken took the opportunity to escape! But he didn’t let the staff catch him so easily and he almost climbed the lion pen!
4. The Last Resort
Then, the zoo decided to add some female orangutans to his enclosure, thinking it would keep him distracted. The San Diego Zoo’s spokesman, Jeff Jouett said that ‘We thought maybe he was jealous of Otis’s three female friends’…
3. But It Was a Bad Idea
Kumang and Jane, the new female companions were great at keeping Ken distracted, but his final goal was to help him escape. Again! They helped him use a mop and Ken climbed the wall again! The trio escaped and was later brought back to the enclosure.
2. A Costly Orangutan
In total, Ken Allen cost the zoo almost $45,000 to keep him in the enclosure. But the local news continued writing about Ken’s amazing life and his antics. Sadly, at 29 years old, he was diagnosed with B-cell lymphoma…
1. He Had No Chance
The poor ape had no chance to live, so the zookeepers chose to spare him from the pain and put him down. People that have known about Ken Allen gathered to hold a candlelight vigil. Zookeepers grieved the loss of the orangutan that made their lives difficult, but who also brought a smile on their face.