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Chantek, an orangutan taught by researchers to communicate with...

By JEFF WOODS

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. -- Chantek, an orangutan taught by researchers to communicate with hand signals, escaped for an evening stroll but used sign language Thursday to acknowledge he had been 'bad.'

The shaggy, 5-year-old ape pried open a window of his trailer at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga and got loose for about an hour Wednesday night before his love of cheeseburgers and chewing gum overcame the lure of freedom.

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Alerted by students, security guards found Chantek with his face stuck in a discarded bag of fast-food cheeseburgers and used chewing gum to lure him into a campus building. Research aides took him back home.

'He was like a kid at a carnival,' said Dr. Lynn Miles, who heads the research team studying Chantek since he arrived on campus as a baby. 'He's extremely clever. We're just always trying to keep one step ahead of him.

'He knows he has been bad. He's real quiet and subdued now. He looked up and squeaked and said, 'Bad' with sign language,' Dr. Miles said.

Chantek, a marvel of ape research, has nearly reached a goal of a 100-sign vocabulary. The 60-pound orangutan combines the symbols for cheese, meat and bread to order a cheeseburger when he sees hamburger parlors on rides around Chattanooga, Dr. Miles said.

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Dr. Miles said she believes Chantek, who lives in a house trailer on campus, escaped because he became angry when he was ordered to his bedroom Wednesday for misbehaving during a research test.

'He had to go stay in his bedroom like a child. This really upset him. We think he wanted to get back at us. I don't think he was really seeking freedom,' Dr. Miles said.

Dr. Miles said she does not plan to punish Chantek for escaping.

'We're just like parents. We're glad to have him back. He was so hot when he got back that' he just sat with me and drank about a half-quart of fruit juice,' Ms. Miles said.

Chantek, whose name is Malaysian for 'beautiful,' was born at the Yerkes Primate Center in Atlanta. Dr. Miles said the creature knows colors and the concepts of good and bad. When hurt, he touches his index fingers together.

Orangutans grow to weigh 200 pounds and live 50 years.

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