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Aping an Escape Artist : 2 Orangutans Follow Mate’s Footsteps and Go ‘Awall’ From Zoo Enclosure

Times Staff Writer

The San Diego Zoo’s consummate escape artist, Ken Allen the orangutan, seems to have given two of his lady friends some tips, and a weekend escape has zoo employees now poised to take extra precautions to make sure the orangutans stay put.

It was the first escape for 9-year-old Kumang and 25-year-old Jane, who took advantage of a misplaced squeegee to escape from their enclosure for about an hour Sunday morning, zoo spokesman Jeff Jouett said. They are two of the five mates of Ken Allen, 17, who has escaped three times in the past two years.

“All employees have been put on notice that the orang(utan)s will use anything they can get their hands on to escape,” Jouett said. “Everyone is watching them a lot more closely, looking in to see if they have something unusual, making sure they’re all there.”

Jouett said it was not known how Jane and Kumang came to possess the 5-foot squeegee, used to clean the 6-by-10-foot windows in front of the enclosure.

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“Either a window-washer left it, or it was left in their bedroom underground, or there is the chance someone threw it into them,” he said. “No one has owned up to it.”

Zoo workers first saw Jane strolling down a walkway near the flamingo exhibit about 8:30 a.m., Jouett said. A quick check of the enclosure revealed Kumang had also escaped, by way of the squeegee found leaning up against one of the walls. Jouett said that by climbing up the squeegee, the orangutans were able to boost themselves over the wall.

About 10 minutes later, Kumang was discovered in a bamboo thicket not far from the enclosure and was coerced back relatively easily, he said. Jane, on the other hand, was not as willing to return home and had to be tranquilized.

“She was headed back, hand in hand with one of the keepers, but must have decided she didn’t want to go after all,” Jouett said. “She had a pretty strong grip on the keeper’s hand, and there was the fear she would bite her (the keeper). Tranquilizing her seemed the safest way for all concerned.”

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Even though the zoo had opened at 8 a.m. Sunday, the area in which Jane and Kumang were found was quickly cordoned off, and there was no real danger to visitors, Jouett said.

Ironically, Jane and Kumang were originally placed in the same enclosure with Ken Allen to entice him to stay put, according to Jouett. After Ken Allen escaped twice in 1985, four female orangutans were added to the enclosure as a “diversion.”

“One female was already in there with him, but we noticed he was going over and harassing Otis (the zoo’s other male orangutan) when he escaped,” Jouett said. “We thought maybe he was jealous of Otis’ three female friends, so we gave him four more, hoping to turn his wanderlust into just lust.”

The diversion worked until April of this year, when Ken Allen pursued freedom over females once again.

“We’ve spent more than $10,000 to make the enclosure Ken Allen-proof, but it seems we’re going to have to keep an eye on all of them,” Jouett said. “For all we know, he may have been an accomplice, and held the squeegee for Jane and Kumang. They’re very, very smart animals.”


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