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The strange tale of Ken Allen, an orangutan...and the San Diego Zoo’s infamous escape artist


IT’S HARD TO BE an ape in 2016. In the wild, their habitats are encroached upon by deforestation and pollution and poaching. And things are just as bad in zoos. Last month, national headlines mourned the death of Harambe, the gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo shot to death when he started dragging around a 3-year-old boy who had fallen into his enclosure.

It wasn’t always this difficult. On June 13, 1985, a 250-pound orangutan named Ken Allen climbed up his retaining wall at the San Diego Zoo and escaped his exhibit. He walked down a public path toward crowds of weekday tourists, stopping to look at the other animals as if he were a visitor before being led back to his cage. It would not be the last time the ape escaped, but instead of a PR disaster, for a brief time in San Diego, Ken Allen became a folk hero.

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