Ken Allen might sound like a human name, but he was actually a rather unusual orangutan, and one of San Diego Zoo's most notorious residents. He was known for escaping his enclosure to go on walks around the zoo. In his 30 years of living at the zoo, his escape antics delighted tourists to the horror of his keepers. People came from around the world to see escape artist Ken Allen, earning him quite the fan club.
While he isn't the first escaping orangutan or escaping zoo animal in general, he is one of the most famous. He even had a song written in his honor. When he passed away, fans were devastated, and he has since been memorialized at the zoo, where he will be forever honored. Ken Allen the orangutan may have left us, but his legend lives on. People still recall hearing about "Hairy Houdini" and his daring escapes even now.
Ken Allen was a male Bornean orangutan who lived in the San Diego Zoo from the 1970's until 2000. During his decades of captivity, he became notorious for escaping his enclosures at least nine times. All of this gained him not only legendary status, but the loving nickname "Hairy Houdini."
Most of these escapes involved him carefully climbing out, despite electrical fencing, but he sometimes got more creative. Ken would use tools and even accomplices. When he did escape, he would sometimes just wait to be put back in, almost as if he just enjoyed the act of the escape
Given Ken Allen's interesting upbringing and childhood habits, it makes total sense he grew up to be an expert at escaping.
He was born in captivity at the San Diego Zoo, and was named in honor of zookeepers Ken Willingham and Ben Allen. Sadly, his mother attempted to smother him when he was young, so he was kept in his own cage through much of his adolescent.
It was later discovered that during this time, he would regularly unscrew the bolts of his cage and just wander around the nursery for fun. These were his first escapes, and he would generally go back to his cage before morning, and put it back together in the hopes that his keepers would be none the wiser. These youthful escapes were just the warmup round for what he would manage to pull off later.
One thing that made Ken Allen so good at escaping were his amazing climbing skills, despite his large size. He may have been nearly 250 lbs, but he was still able to haul his body up walls that looked impossible to scale. Zoo officials described his climbs as being "like Spiderman."
Eventually the zoo had to hire professional rock climbers to inspect the enclosure. They were instructed to find every single finger and toe hold possible, but even after that, Ken Allen still managed to find his way out. The zoo built moats, added four feet onto the walls, but those efforts weren't enough. When he had to, Ken Allen would find things like squeegees or other tools in order to help him get up the walls, proving he was just as unstoppable as the real Spiderman.