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Popular San Diego Zoo Orangutan Dies Of Cancer

SAN DIEGO (AP) - An orangutan that endeared himself to San Diego Zoo personnel and visitors with his penchant for escapes and mischief died Friday after battling cancer.

The 29-year-old ape known as Ken Allen was euthanized at 11:05 a.m., said Doug Myers, executive director of the San Diego Zoological Society.

"His condition had worsened over the last several days and this morning the condition warranted euthanasia for Ken Allen," Myers told reporters.

"Ken Allen brought great joy to the San Diego Zoo for over 29 years," he said, noting that keepers who had cared for the orangutan from his infancy visited him early Friday.

Zoo officials had announced this week that Ken Allen was dying of an untreatable form of lymphoma, which had been diagnosed in October.

Ken Allen was born at the zoo to Borneo orangutans Bob and Maggie. He was named after zoo keeper Ken Willingham and security officer Ben Allen, who rescued him as an infant from his mother's threatening behavior.

In the zoo nursery, he showed his bent for mischief by dismantling his crib and unscrewing every light bulb within reach.

In the 1980s, Ken Allen made three escapes from the orangutan enclosure, briefly enjoying freedom before being caught by zoo personnel. Other orangutans followed his lead. There were at least nine breakouts, with crowds cheering the apes on as keepers ran after them.

Zoo workers attempted to go undercover, dressing as tourists, to see how the apes climbed over the wall but the orangutans weren't fooled. They waited until the surveillance ended before returning to their monkey business.

Finally, rock climbers found the finger- and toe-holds on the fake rock walls, which then were smoothed over.

But Ken Allen's exploits had made him a media darling, with his rust-colored visage gracing T-shirts and bumper stickers. He also had three offspring.

In October, keepers detected a lump in Ken Allen's right groin, said Pat Morris, the zoo's senior veterinarian. The lesion extended up into the pelvis, exerting pressure on the bladder.

Treatment options were limited because the exact type of lymphoma was difficult to determine, said Bruce Rideout, the zoo's chief of pathology.

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