Ken Allen remains a San Diego Zoo legend to this day. Raised in the Children’s Zoo nursery, he had a mischievous twinkle in his eye from the get-go! He was uncannily brilliant, with a knack for mechanics and pulling one over on his keepers. As a youngster, he unscrewed the nuts and removed the metal mesh top of his supposedly “child-proof” playpen so he could “ramble around the nursery for the night.” He would hop back in by morning—after cleverly putting the playpen back together. He did this several times before his keepers caught him at it!
In adulthood, his escapades earned him the name “Hairy Houdini.” He became famous in the 1980s for escaping from the Zoo orangutan habitat not once but several times. He even taught another orangutan how to use a branch the way a human uses a crowbar to get out. Each time, the staff studied the enclosure space to see how he did it—and on a couple of occasions he stumped them. Even during his “unscheduled strolls,” however, Ken Allen was never threatening—it was more of a game to him, and he’d even sit at the edge of the exhibit and wait for the keepers to let him back in.
Over the years he became a local folk hero, and he even had a fan club, with T-shirts and bumper stickers. This mischievous, clever red ape left indelible memories with many.