Keeper Uses Gorilla Tactics to Nab an Ape Escape Artist

Times Staff Writer

Ken Allen, the San Diego Zoo’s elusive orangutan, gave away his escape route Friday to a zoo keeper disguised as a zoo visitor.

The 15-year-old Bornean orangutan has been climbing the walls since he was moved to a new enclosure in the zoo’s Southeast Asia exhibit. Zoo keepers were baffled over how Ken was able to escape twice from the exhibit, which is encircled by a seven-foot-wide moat.

But at 3:45 p.m., with zoo keeper Fernando Covarrubias dressed as a typical zoo-goer and hiding behind nearby rocks, Ken went to the back of the enclosure and tried to break out again.


“He fell down across the moat like Spiderman (his hands against the exterior wall, his feet against the interior wall) and inched his way up the walls,” zoo keeper Mike Hammond said.

As Ken reached the top his arm brushed an electric wire that had been strung after the last escape.

Hammond said the shock didn’t seem to effect Ken, “but he contemplated the situation for a minute. Then he climbed back down.”

Friday was Ken’s first day back in the exhibit since Tuesday, when he found a crowbar left by some workers on his jungle gym. His mate, Vickie, used the crowbar to try to pry open a window in their enclosure. Zoo keepers built the moat’s wall four feet higher after Ken’s first escape on June 13, when he was captured after mingling with the zoo visitors.

After the second breakout on July 24, Ken was was found outside the exhibit throwing rocks at another orangutan that was still inside.

Following his second escape, zoo keepers started spying on Ken disguised as typical tourists to catch the orangutan off guard. Covarrubias began his fruitful surveillance at 10 a.m. Friday


Now that zoo keepers have discovered Ken’s escape route, Hammond said, Ken will be confined to a room under the exhibit until they figure out how to keep him enclosed. Meanwhile, Ken’s only entertainment will be a black-and-white television with one working channel.

Ken’s exploits have gained him sympathizers who want to see him released, but Hammond said Ken would have more use for a new TV set than for a home in the wild.

“He was born in the zoo, raised in the zoo,” Hammond said. “He doesn’t know a thing more about Borneo than you or I.”