Just read about this orangutan called Fu Manchu who allegedly crafted a self made key for his zoo cage, kept it hidden in his mouth all day and regularly escaped during the night.

Mother Nature Network - Hairy Houdinis: 6 animal escape artists

High-tech surveillance was the only way that zookeepers were able to keep up. Long after zoo employees had left for the night, Fu would climb into the air vents connected to his enclosure and follow them to a dry moat surrounding the orangutan exhibit. Inside the moat was a locked door that employees often used. The clever ape would pull out a small piece of metal wiring that he kept hidden under his cheek throughout the day, and proceed to pick the door's lock!

Is this real?

2 Answers 2


Many links can be found related to Fu Manchu's jailbreak.

Fu Manchu's jailbreaks made headlines in 1968, but his clever tricks didn't make a big impression on the scientists who specialize in looking for signs of higher mental processes in animals.

a short excerpt ...

Can Animals Think?
5 Of The Greatest Escape Artists Ever
Der Spiegel

  • The link is now stale, but I think the quote came from the Time article. It went on to say that this behavior did not impress scientists at the time at least in part because the hot research at that time was trying to teach apes language. It goes on to suggest that it is more productive to study the higher mental processes animals actually seem to possess and use, rather than to fit them to a model based on the highest mental processes of humans.
    – sdenham
    Commented Jun 23, 2022 at 15:15

The phrases pick the door's lock and a self made key are not accurate however it does appear that an orangutan called Fu Manchu did use a tool to unlock a door and escape at least twice.

In lock-picking circles, the technique of using a credit card to push the bolt out of the way is known as shimming a lock. The tool used to fit through the small gap is known as the shim. I'm not really sure if using a wire to unhook a latch could be considered shimming, but it's certainly not picking, which is a technique used for pin-and-tumbler locks and the tool was not a key.

An article linked from the page you supplied in the question describes his actions like this:

"Fu Manchu pulled the door back from its frame. Taking a piece of wire from his cheek, he then tripped the latch, much the way a thief might slip a credit card between a door and its frame."

Keepers confiscated the wire. But the escapes earned Fu Manchu honorary membership in the American Association of Locksmiths.

The Time article describes it like this:

First, the young ape climbed down some air-vent louvers into a dry moat. Then, taking hold of the bottom of the furnace door, he used brute force to pull it back just far enough to slide a wire into the gap, slip a latch and pop the door open. The next day, Stones noticed something shiny sticking out of Fu's mouth. It was the wire lock pick, bent to fit between his lip and gum and stowed there between escapes.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .