This epic zoo escape story shows how fantastically smart orangutans can be.

Fu Manchu was on the loose.

Adult male orangutans grow big jowls, like this gentleman from a German zoo. Photo by Oliver Lang/AFP/Getty Images.

Fu was an adult male orangutan who lived in the Omaha Zoo way back in the 1960s.


Though he was named after the villainous mastermind in Sax Rohmer's series of novels, Fu was anything but a villain. He was gentle and easy-going, the Omaha Zoo said in a flashback Facebook post.

"Fu, at a young age, would climb inside of the keeper's parkas as they were wearing them, slide his arms into the sleeves and play with the keepers," they wrote. "[Fu] even saved a curator who had slipped on a wet floor inside the exhibit."

One day, though, Fu caused quite a commotion by escaping from his enclosure.

When zookeepers came near his enclosure, they were shocked to find Fu sitting in a tree. Orangutans love to climb trees, yes, but the tree was outside his enclosure, over near the elephant barn. And he hadn't just escaped, he also brought his companion and three children along with him!

In the wild, orangutans often build bed-like nests in trees. Romeo Gacad/AFP/Getty Images.

The keepers were able to guide Fu back to his enclosure, where they found an open, unlocked maintenance door. Head keeper Jerry Stones, assuming it was the fault of one of the keepers, gave his team a tongue-lashing.

Stones was willing to let the incident go. But then it happened again.

Just a few days later, the Fu Manchu family was spotted basking in the sun on a nearby rooftop outside the enclosure. The keepers managed, again, to get Fu back into his home. But this time, Stones was furious.

"I was getting ready to fire someone," he told Time magazine.

But a few days later, before anyone lost their job, one of Stones' staff noticed something: Fu Manchu was behaving weirdly.

It turned out that Fu had MacGuyver'd his own escape device.

As the staff watched, Fu Manchu ambled over to the dry moat in his enclosure that contained the maintenance door and climbed down some air vents to get to the bottom. Then, as they all watched, he proceeded to jimmy the door's latch with what looked like a homemade lock pick!

Keepers later found that the lock pick was a long piece of wire Fu had managed to find somewhere and bend into shape. Using it, he could unlatch the maintenance door from the outside.

What's more, the reason that nobody had been able to find it before was that Fu kept this lock pick a secret. He'd do it by hiding it in between his bottom lip and his gums between escape attempts, only pulling it out when the time was ripe.

Orangutans are tool masters, and Fu Manchu isn't the only orangutan who's shocked us with their smarts.

Probing for goodies is only one of the many clever things we've seen orangutans do. Photo by Colin Knowles/Flickr.

Another big male, Ken Allen, lived at the San Diego Zoo in 1985 and kept finding new ways to scale the walls. The zoo ultimately had to hire a team of rock climbers to climb-proof his enclosure. He even inspired a song, "The Ballad of Ken Allen."

Orangutans in the wild, meanwhile, have been seen using leaves as gloves, napkins, or megaphones. They build nests to sleep in every night. They've even been seen spearfishing.

For his efforts, Fu Manchu earned an honorary membership in the American Association of Locksmiths, according to The Seattle Times.

Fu passed away in 1992 and was survived by 20 children and 15 grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

The zoo still has orangutans today, although none have entered the history books quite like Fu and his ridiculous, amazing escape attempts.

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Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

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Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

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The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

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Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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