How NYC’s “Tiger Man” Raised 425-Pound Pet Cat In Harlem Apartment

Antoine Yates says the illegal exotic animal was his “best friend.”

April 22, 2020

An NYPD officer repels down the side of Antoine Yates' apartment building in Harlem in order to shoot a tranquilizer dart at Ming [John Roca/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images]

An NYPD officer repels down the side of Antoine Yates' apartment building in Harlem in order to shoot a tranquilizer dart at Ming [John Roca/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images]

By: Aaron Rasmussen

Joseph Maldonado-Passage stole the spotlight on the recently released docuseries Tiger King, but “Tiger Man” was the talk of New York City almost two decades ago when he was caught keeping a full-grown 425-pound tiger in his Harlem public housing apartment.

In 2001, Antoine Yates said he paid an exotic animal trainer a couple thousand dollars for an 8-week-old Siberian-Bengal mix he named Ming, The New York Times reported.

According to the publication, Yates, then a 31-year-old construction worker, at first bottle-fed the cub but the animal eventually consumed 20 pounds of chicken thighs daily as he grew bigger over the next few years.

Yates, who now lives in Philadelphia, told the Times it was never his goal to domesticate Ming.

“I did a lot of enrichment with him to feed his instinct. I was like a drill sergeant,” he explained.

Ming had a sandbox in the apartment and the tiger was able to “stimulate his mind” with carpet pieces, dolls, frozen liver cuts and other items, Yates said.

“Consciously I knew I had a tiger, but the physical interaction and bonding, it was so natural,” he continued of his relationship with the cat. “It wasn’t no different than raising a monkey or a snake.”

Yates claimed his ultimate goal was to build an animal sanctuary north of New York City that would serve as “a new concept of animals living together.”

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

In October 2003, Yates’ plan unraveled when he brought home a rescue kitten. The tiger attacked the stray, biting Yates in the process.

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Antoine Yates holds Shadow, the kitten he saved from an attack by Ming the tiger [Andrew Savulich/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images]

Photo by: New York Daily News Archive

New York Daily News Archive

Antoine Yates holds Shadow, the kitten he saved from an attack by Ming the tiger [Andrew Savulich/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images]

Yates sought treatment for gashes to his leg at Harlem Hospital. Attending physicians became suspicious and alerted law enforcement after they noted the large wounds couldn’t have come from a pit bull attack, as Yates claimed.

Police went to Yates’ fifth-floor apartment to check out the situation and reportedly heard growling. Using a miniature remote camera, they discovered the tiger lurking inside.

An officer repelled down the outside of Yates’ building to shoot tranquilizer darts at Ming. It took more than six responders to carry the subdued animal on a tarp from the apartment. Police also discovered a five-foot-long alligator named Al in a fiberglass tank.

Housing Authority officials said they didn’t know Yates had the tiger, but Ming’s existence was an open secret among neighbors, who at times complained about urine smells emanating from the apartment, the Times reported.

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

Yates pleaded guilty to reckless endangerment and possessing a wild animal. He served three months in prison and five years of probation. He was also barred from owning any animals, according to the Times.

“I never put the public or another soul in harm’s way. I’m not a hard-core criminal,” Yates insisted. “I’m just a person with a passion for animals.”

After Ming’s rescue, authorities relocated the tiger to Noah’s Lost Ark in Berlin, Ohio. He died at the animal sanctuary of natural causes in February 2019. Ming’s cremated remains are now interred at the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery in Westchester County, about 17 miles north of the cat’s former Harlem home.

So what does Yates — who once said Ming the tiger was “like my brother, my best friend, my only friend, really” — think about Maldonado-Passage?

“I was turned off by it,” he said of the Tiger King star’s obsession with big cats. “It just shows how ignorant these so-called exotic animal lovers can be.”

As for Yates, he said he “loved the experience” of raising unusual pets and “would do it again.”

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