A 425-Pound Tiger Living in a Harlem Apartment? Yes, It Happened

So, did Tiger Man take pleasure in “Tiger King?”

“I was turned off by it,” stated Antoine Yates, who turned often called New York City’s Tiger Man lengthy earlier than the wild recognition of Netflix’s documentary mini-series. “It just shows how ignorant these so-called exotic animal lovers can be.”

Mr. Yates additionally received momentarily well-known for protecting a full-grown tiger, this one named Ming. But relatively than the extra rural settings favored by Joe Exotic and the present’s different big-cat fans, he stored Ming in his Harlem condominium, for greater than two years.

In 2001, Mr. Yates, then a 31-year-old building employee, introduced the Eight-week-old cub to his sprawling residence in a Harlem housing challenge.

Ming rapidly went from bottle feeding to consuming 20 kilos of rooster thighs a day, which Mr. Yates would heft residence every morning from a native grocery store. And in lower than three years, the Siberian-Bengal combine grew into a 425-pound behemoth.

The authorities ultimately found Ming in 2003. They subdued and eliminated him, together with a five-foot-long alligator named Al that Mr. Yates stored in a fiberglass tank in the condominium.

Both animals have been relocated to an Ohio sanctuary, the place Ming died from pure causes in February 2019. Mr. Yates was arrested and served a transient stint in jail for illegally protecting an animal.

I used to be a reporter on The New York Times metro desk when the story was taking part in out, a time when the town appeared a bit wilder.

Nevertheless, even seasoned editors and reporters have been flabbergasted that a man had stored a tiger in his public housing condominium in such a dense city setting.

City authorities have been additionally puzzled as to how the presence of a tiger in Apartment 5E of the Drew Hamilton public housing complicated had remained an open secret amongst some neighbors. Ming definitely escaped the discover of metropolis Housing Authority officers who stated they fielded complaints from neighbors about urine smells from Mr. Yates’s condominium, however by no means any point out of a tiger.

Nor did they know in regards to the different unique animals Mr. Yates may need stored in the condominium.

At the time, neighbors claimed to reporters and to legislation enforcement officers that Mr. Yates had bear cubs, Rottweilers, rabbits, hyenas, monkeys, snakes, a llama, a tarantula and even a younger lion.

Asked about this lately, Mr. Yates, who lives along with his mom in the Philadelphia space, wouldn’t elaborate previous saying, “I did have a lot of exotics in there.”

He gamely revealed the remainder of the story, although, from his pet-keeping obsessions that started at age three with teddy bear hamsters to later escapades with extra unique critters.

He stated he purchased Ming — the title got here from Mr. Yates’s curiosity in the Chinese dynasty — from an unique animal breeder for “a couple thousand.”

The tiger turned central to a utopian plan for an animal sanctuary that he envisioned as “a new concept of animals living together,” Mr. Yates stated in a telephone interview.

He constructed a sandbox in Ming’s room and used items of carpeting and dolls as a part of a routine of play and coaching. This included hide-and-seek with objects sprayed with cologne, and freezing slabs of liver that Ming would play with as they melted, “things to stimulate his mind,” Mr. Yates stated.

“I didn’t want to domesticate him,” he added. “I did a lot of enrichment with him to feed his instinct. I was like a drill sergeant.”

Ming would loll round with Mr. Yates as he learn or watched movies.

At the time, Mr. Yates variously known as Ming his greatest buddy, a brother determine and “my calling in life”

“Consciously I knew I had a tiger, but the physical interaction and bonding, it was so natural,” he stated in the interview. “It wasn’t no different than raising a monkey or a snake.”

He had put a down cost on a parcel north of New York City, he recalled, to create a haven of harmonious interplay between animals and folks — a “Garden of Eden,” was how he described it on the time.

“It was all carefully thought-through — I was a matter of months from securing the property,” he stated. “My whole intention was to keep Ming low-key for a little bit of time before moving him, but it was interrupted.”

The interruption got here in October 2003, after Mr. Yates took in an deserted kitten he named Shadow. One day, Ming lunged at Shadow and gashed Mr. Yates in the leg as he tried to intervene.

Mr. Yates went to Harlem Hospital, claiming he had been attacked by a pit bull. Because of the dimensions of the chew radius, medical doctors have been skeptical. The authorities have been alerted and the police arrived at Mr. Yates’s constructing. They have been capable of stick a miniature digital camera into the condominium to substantiate that, sure, there actually was a tiger inside.

In a commando-style operation, an officer rappelling down the constructing’s exterior was capable of shoot a tranquilizer dart by means of a window to subdue Ming, who was then carried out on a tarp to a truck by a half-dozen responders.

The police have been alerted that Mr. Yates had then gone to a Philadelphia hospital. He was arrested there and the story turned front-page information, with Mr. Yates changing into identified in the tabloids as “Tiger Man.”

He wound up pleading responsible to reckless endangerment and possessing a wild animal.

As a part of the plea, prosecutors dropped costs in opposition to Mr. Yates’s mom, Martha, then 68, who had been charged with endangering the welfare of eight younger family members and foster kids by elevating them for a interval in the condominium whereas Ming was current.

“For a tiger to go unnoticed for that long, that couldn’t happen today,” recalled Jeremy Saland, the prosecuting legal professional in the case. “Today, someone in the hallway would record it roaring, and it would be all over Instagram or Twitter.”

Mr. Saland, now a prison lawyer in Manhattan, stated throughout pretrial preparations that he had tried unsuccessfully to get Ming housed on the Bronx Zoo so he may very well be introduced as proof and visited by jurors.

Mr. Yates served three months on Rikers Island, after which he was placed on probation for 5 years and barred from having animals.

He nonetheless considers the prosecution a sham. Ming had been declawed, he stated, and the kids have been solely in the condominium whereas Ming was a smaller cat, and have been by no means in hazard.

“Most of the time it was just me there, no family, no friends, no girlfriends,” he stated. “I never put the public or another soul in harm’s way. I’m not a hard-core criminal. I’m just a person with a passion for animals.”

Ming’s cremated stays have been interred a yr in the past on the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery in Westchester County. The stone monument — “Ming, Tiger of Harlem” — lies about 17 miles north of the condominium of his pent-up childhood.

Mr. Yates stated he plans to go to the grave, and has not given up on his dream of making a utopian sanctuary.

“I’ll always love animals till I leave this planet — I’m not going to just give up because of the judicial system,” he stated. “I loved the experience. I would do it again.”

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