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Escape-Minded Orangutan Settles Down as a 'Family Man'

December 15, 1985|Associated Press

SAN DIEGO — Ken Allen, the orangutan who kept keepers hopping at the San Diego Zoo with his quests for freedom, has settled down to family life--at least temporarily--but the zoo is cashing in on his fame as an escape artist.

A 45-rpm record of his life story and sweat shirts bearing his mug have been placed on the shelves of the zoo's gift shop.

Last summer the 15-year-old ape amused and frustrated keepers by breaking out of his moated enclosure every chance he got.

Ken Allen never traveled far and never caused any real trouble, but since officials rebuilt the back of his enclosure he has stayed put, spending time with his family and watching afternoon soap operas on television.

Clandestine monitoring of his movements was called off a few weeks ago. A zookeeper had dressed as a tourist to watch for the orangutan's escape attempts. Like any smart prisoner, Ken Allen never tried to bust out when a uniformed keeper was nearby.

"In the first few days after they rebuilt the wall, he tried to get out about five times," said keeper Fernando Covarrubias, one of the spies who watched Ken Allen. "After that he gave up. He's become pretty mellow."

It's not that Ken Allen has lost interest in the outside world; he's just more interested in his mate, Vicky, and their year-old offspring, Kellen.

"He just hasn't been as curious," Covarrubias said. "I think what made him want to get out was seeing the other female orangutans across the moat. Now he just goes up the wall for peeks once in awhile."

Ken Allen was banished for several weeks this fall to the bedroom area of his enclosure. Sympathetic keepers installed a black-and-white television set, and the orang has become fond of afternoon soaps.

"We're trying to think of something else to keep him busy while he's outside," Covarrubias said.

During his years at the zoo, Ken Allen has pulled at least a dozen escapes, dating to his infancy, when he unscrewed bolts at the top of a cage in the zoo nursery.

Zoo spokesman Jeff Jouett said that even though Ken Allen has calmed down, interest in his antics has not.

The zoo marketing department is selling Ken Allen sweat shirts for $14 each in the gift shop. The crew-neck shirts bear a photo of the orangutan with headlines telling of his escapes.

Dr. Dennis Gersten, a psychiatrist who learned about Ken Allen through news accounts, has written a song about the beast.

"It was quite an easy song to write," Gersten said. "There's so much history to the guy.

"Ken Allen appeals to everyone's sense of breaking out. The irony of it is that he doesn't really want to leave. He breaks out but he doesn't go anywhere."

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