Orangutan Checks Out From Quarters at Zoo--Again

Times Staff Writer

Ken Allen, the San Diego Zoo’s elusive orangutan, is under lock and key today after jumping the seven-foot moat encircling his exhibit Tuesday afternoon and taking a 15-minute walk around the park.

He was ushered back into his enclosure by keepers, veterinarians and security guards.

The 16-year-old, 245-pound Bornean orangutan made his escape when the moat in the back of his exhibit dried up because of a clogged water pump. Ken, who is afraid of water, walked across the dry moat and hoisted himself onto rocks outside the enclosure, making him a free orangutan.

Tuesday marked his fourth escape in the last three years--the first this year.

Taking advantage of his liberty, Ken wandered down to a sidewalk near the orangutan enclosure and hammed it up for dozens of picture-taking zoo-goers who didn’t seem to realize he was on the wrong side of the exhibit.


Ken’s freedom was short-lived, however, when he was spotted almost immediately by zoo gardener Paul Nastav. Nastav shooed away the crowds and tried to scare Ken back into the exhibit, but to no avail.

As Nastav went for help, Ken made a beeline for nearby Fern Canyon and was heading for Bear Canyon, the lower level of the zoo where the lions and bears are housed, when security guards with firearms and veterinarians brandishing tranquilizer guns caught up with him.

“This is the furthest he ever went,” said Georgeanne Irvine, a zoo spokeswoman. “He went around and about exhibits. We really had to chase him. He was coming into the road where the lions and bears are. That’s a heavily trafficked area. We were clearing areas of the zoo.”

Security guards and keepers chased the “nervous and agitated” Ken back up the hill and into his enclosure by yelling at him and waving their arms, Irvine said.

“This is serious when an animal that size gets out,” Irvine said. “He could bite someone. He could crush someone. It’s not that he’s mean, but he could hurt somebody without meaning to if he was upset at something.”

History of Escapes

Ken’s afternoon escapade ended with no harm to him or zoo goers. He will remain off exhibit and locked in his nighttime room for the next few days while zoo keepers inspect the enclosure and make the necessary modifications.


The 4 1/2-foot orangutan, who was raised in the zoo’s nursery, has a long history of breakouts from various enclosures, despite efforts by zoo officials to make his exhibit escape-proof.

Ken escaped three times in the summer of 1985. His most daring attempt came when he found a crow bar left by some workers and threw it to his mate, Vickie, who smashed out the lower window of their exhibit.

“Ever since he’s been a baby in the nursery, he’s always escaped,” Irvine said. “He just likes to go out exploring.”