Ken Allen became a minor celebrity after a series of escapes. San Diego Zoo

The orangutan who couldn’t be contained

An orangutan at the San Diego Zoo once gained national fame as a serial escape artist. Born at the zoo in 1971, Ken Allen outwitted zookeepers in three widely publicized breakouts from his enclosure during the 1980s. The shaggy, red-haired ape never went far. He simply wandered the grounds, as if a tourist, looking at the other animals.

News of the escapes made Ken Allen a sensation. A headline writer called him “Hairy Houdini.” A fan club was formed. He was celebrated in a song and with T-shirts and bumper stickers that read, “Free Ken Allen.” The escapes stopped only after the zoo eliminated every finger-and toehold in the enclosure.

Ken Allen died in 2000 after getting cancer. He was 29. The S.D. Union-Tribune published an obituary that called him “a folk hero.”

L.A. TimesNewsweek

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