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
SpeciesBornean orangutan
Born(1971-02-13)February 13, 1971
San Diego Zoo
DiedDecember 1, 2000(2000-12-01) (aged 29)
Cause of deathEuthanasia issued due to b-cell lymphoma
Known forEscaping from his enclosures repeatedly

Ken Allen was born in captivity at the San Diego Zoo in 1971. In 1985, he 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 joined 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 by David Gersten about him.

Ken Allen developed prostate cancer[3] and was euthanized on December 1, 2000.[4] He was 29 years old.



In 1985, during his three escapes on June 13, July 29, and August 13, Ken Allen peacefully strolled around the zoo looking at other animals. Ken never acted violently or aggressively towards zoo patrons or animals.

Zookeepers were initially stumped over how he had managed to escape. Zoo staff began surveillance of his enclosure to try to catch him in the act, only to find that he 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.[5] 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 in 2011 listed Ken Allen's story as one of the Top Eleven Zoo Escapes.[1]

See also



  1. ^ a b Silver, Alexandra (June 24, 2013). "Top 11 Zoo Escapes". Time. ISSN 0040-781X. Retrieved December 25, 2018.
  2. ^ Middleton, Duncan (August 7, 2016). "The missing lynx and five other animal escapees including Ken Allen the Orangutan". BBC Newsbeat. Retrieved December 25, 2018.
  3. ^ Dankula, Count. "Absolute Mad Lads - Ken Allen, The Hairy Houdini". YouTube. Archived from the original on December 13, 2021. Retrieved April 5, 2021.
  4. ^ PERRY, TONY (December 2, 2000). "San Diego Zoo's Beloved Escape-Artist Ape Dies". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Archived from the original on December 19, 2010. Retrieved December 25, 2018.
  5. ^ "Aping an Escape Artist : 2 Orangutans Follow Mate's Footsteps and Go 'Awall' From Zoo Enclosure". Los Angeles Times.

Further reading

  • "Popular San Diego Zoo orangutan dies of cancer". San Diego Source. December 1, 2000. Factiva aprs000020010804dwc105h0e. Retrieved May 30, 2011.
  • Jefferson, David; Callahan, Bill (August 17, 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 (July 31, 1985). "A stool pigeon for orangutan?". The San Diego Union-Tribune. pp. B-5. Factiva SDU0000020070702dh7v00b0n.
  • Osment, Noel (June 19, 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 (August 4, 1985). "Ken-Allen, the Houdini of orangutans". The San Diego Union-Tribune. p. B-1. Factiva SDU0000020070702dh8400bbt.
  • Scarr, Lew (August 14, 1985). "Orangutan throws a crowbar into Zoo's planning". pp. B-1:3, 5, 6. Factiva SDU0000020070702dh8e009de.
  • Steinberg, James (December 2, 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 (December 26, 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.