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Orangutan Escape Artist Turns Guru, Two Mates Escape

August 25, 1987 GMT

SAN DIEGO (AP) _ Zoo keepers already had their hands full with the escapades of Orangutan escape artist Ken Allen. Now the outlook for security is worse, with the primate apparently inspiring two mates to break for freedom.

″It’s getting to be a saga, a regular miniseries,″ San Diego Zoo spokesman Jeff Jouett said Monday of the half-hour escape of 9-year-old Kumang and 25-year-old Jane.

The two female orangutans are housed with their mentor, who has made headlines with three escapes during the past two years.

Though Ken Allen stayed behind in Sunday’s escape, zoo officials said his past escapades may have influenced his mates.

″Ken Allen has to be the ring leader,″ Jouett said. ″They may be trying to escape to impress him.″

A squeegee apparently left in the orangutans’ enclosure was used by Jane and Kumang to make their escape. The animals apparently propped the wooden handle against the wall of the exhibit, using the additional reach it provided to scramble over the wall, officials said.

Ken Allen’s first escape was in June 1985, and his most recent breakout was in April.

Since then, one corner of the orangutan enclosure has been lined with a wire carrying a 12-volt charge. The moat also was enlarged, tree branches hanging over the enclosure were trimmed and sections of the walls smoothed out to remove possible fingerholds.

The escape was discovered early Sunday, and the area was cordoned off to prevent a possible confrontation between the orangutans and zoo visitors.

″We can never sell these orangutans short. They are always a step ahead of us,″ Jouett said.

Jane was first sighted in the flamingo exhibit. While some employees kept an eye on her, other keepers conducted a nose count of the orangutan exhibit and found that two were missing.

Kumang was spotted minutes later in a cluster of bamboo just outside her enclosure.

Shouting and waving their arms, keepers herded Kumang onto a wall that separates the Bornean and Sumatran orangutan exhibits. Ken Allen and his mates are Bornean orangutans.

″She jumped backed into an enclosure. The only problem was she jumped into the Sumatran enclosure, with big burly Otis, Ken Allen’s archrival,″ Jouett said.

Otis, who weighs more than 300 pounds, immediately grabbed hold of Kumang. ″He didn’t hurt her. He just wouldn’t let her go,″ Jouett said.

It took about 30 minutes of cajoling and the jealous intervention of one of Otis’ mates to force him to release Kumang, who dashed into the Bornean exhibit through a lower door opened by keepers.

Jane, after downing half-empty sodas in an employee lunch area near the flamingo exhibit, began walking in the direction of the orangutan enclosure. Zoo veterinarians arrived and shot her with a tranquilizer. She staggered for a while before dropping in front of her exhibit and was carried the rest of way by keepers.

″She spent (Monday) sleeping off the effects of all the excitement and the tranquilizer,″ Jouett said, adding Jane probably would go back on public display today.

Kumang went back on display Monday.