Oct. 4, 2003 - He thought he was being pranked.
Emergency Service Unit cop Martin Duffy thought the old timer was hazing him when he reported
to work and was told his mission for the afternoon.
But it was no joke.
Soon Officer Duffy found himself climbing out of a widow on the 7th floor and rappelling
down the side of a 21 story Harlem apartment building.
At the 5th floor he dangled, peering into an apartment window, then took aim and fired
a tranquilizer dart gun.
The dart hit the 400 pound (181 kg) tiger in the rump.
Enraged, the massive cat roared, showing off long, wicked looking canines and then charged
towards the window.
From the time he was little, Antoine Yates adored animals.
He was always bringing home stray puppies or injured birds.
His mother Martha indulged his love, allowing her son to keep a variety of pets throughout
As Antoine got older, his interests turned to more exotic animals.
The peace he found in taking care of animals was a refuge against the dangerous crime infested
Harlem neighborhood where he grew up in the early 1980’s.
While his brother Aaron took to the streets, Antoine was inside with his pets; over time
he had boa conscriptors and several other reptiles, capuchin and squirrel monkeys.
In the spring of 2000, the Yates family, which included a rotating group of foster kids,
was living in a 5 bedroom apartment in the Drew Hamilton Houses, a huge, dismal housing
project built in the 1960s.
Antoine, now in his early 30’s concocted a plan with his mother and sister to open
He already owned 2 pythons and a caiman.
Despite only being a part time taxi driver, Antoine was able to save up thousands of dollars
and falsify papers to prove he had a zoo in order to purchase a lion cub from the BEARCAT
Hollow Animal Park Racine, Minnesota.
Later, Antoine also purchased Ming, an 8 week old Siberian-Bengal hybrid tiger cub from
from the same breeders.
In addition to his other pets, eventually Antoine ended up with 2 lion and 2 tiger cubs.
Not long afterwards, his mom and sister backed out of the zoo project and Antoine was forced
to give up his new pets.
Antoine rehomed the pythons, lion cubs and one of the tigers, but kept the Al, the caiman
and Ming, the tiger cub whom he especially loved.
Over the next 3 years Antoine raised Ming in the Yate family’s fifth floor apartment.
He fed him bottles around the clock.
Ming quickly graduated to pureed meat and then meat chucks.
Martha gradually became unhappy with the living situation.
Fearing for her and her children’s safety, she and two foster children moved to Philadelphia,
relinquishing apartment E5 to her son.
Antoine built Ming a sandpit, complete with balls.
Al the caiman, who lived in another bedroom, had a custom fiberglass tank.
Sometimes Antoine would freeze a pan of liver and give Ming a giant meat popsicle.
By the time Ming was 3 in 2003, he weighed over 400 (181 kg) pounds.
Antoine was feeding him about 20 pounds (9.1 kg) of raw chicken a day.
The tiger was a semi open secret; some of Antoine’s friends and neighbors were aware
of the big cat.
Across the way, there was a senior citizen center as part of the apartment complex.
Ming used to stand on his hind legs and look out the window.
Aaron joked with his brother about the workers at the retirerment home thinking that the
old people were senile when they claimed to have seen a tiger looking out of an apartment
On and off Antoine had roommates, who were at first scared, but became accustomed to
Antoine went through bouts of depression where he was a recluse.
He would mainly meditate and hang out with Ming.
One day Antoine found a small black kitten.
As always, he took the stray home, naming it Shadow.
He kept Shadow in a bedroom, away from the tiger.
Unfortunately, Shadow got out.
Territorial Ming went for the kitten, Antoine tried to intervene and protect it.
Aaron had a premonition that something was wrong and rushed over to the apartment to
find his brother Antoine in shock.
Ming had severely bitten Antoine’s arm and leg.
Aaron called 911, but there was no way they wanted the paramedics coming into the apartment
and discovering Ming.
Aaron helped his brother down to the lobby where they were met by police.
Antoine was transported to the Harlem Hospital Center where he claimed that he had been attacked
by a bulldog.
However, the doctors were suspicious, the bites looked like they came from an animal
with a much larger jaw.
Meanwhile, the police received two anonymous tips in the next few days following the attack.
One said there was a wild animal somewhere in the city.
The second call directed them to the exact address.
That evening a policeman came knocking on the door of apartment E5 for a welfare check.
No one was home, but the officer heard loud growling noises coming from the apartment.
Wisely, he decided not to go in.
The officer talked to a neighbor who complained of large amounts of urine and a strong smell
coming through the ceiling.
Officers from TARU, the Technical Assistance Response Unit drilled a hole through a neighbor’s
wall to get a visual of what was in the apartment.
They saw a mattress that had been shredded as if it were made of paper.
Claw marks scratched down the wall from ceiling to floor and then Ming wandered into view.
400 pounds (181 kg) of rippling, muscled cat, over 9 feet (2.7 m) tall when he stood on
his hind legs.
The massive tiger was even shocking to jaded police who thought they had seen it all.
The tiger was left alone for the night, the apartment cordoned off while the police formulated
They didn’t want to have to kill the tiger, yet they had to safely remove the big cat
from the apartment while keeping the public protected.
They called animal experts, including Dr. Robert A. Cook, the head veterinarian at the
Bronx Zoo for help.
The next day, from the apartment below on the fourth floor, the police raised a pole-mounted
camera out the window to keep track of Ming.
Meanwhile, on the seventh floor, the police laid out a strategy.
Dr. Cook prepared tranquilizer darts for the chosen marksman, Officer Duffy and gave him
Around 4:30 p.m. police sniper Duffy, armed both with a tranquilizer dart gun and a rifle
with live ammunition abseiled down to the fifth floor.
Meanwhile, word had gotten out about the tiger.
The media, along with a curious crowd of citizens gathered below to watch.
Dangling in a rope sling, officer Duffy peered into a bedroom window of apartment E5.
He could clearly see Ming peacefully chilling on the bedroom floor.
The tiger looked back at the policeman and then turned slightly, giving Duffy a good
view of his hind quarters.
Duffy held the tranquilizer gun up to the window, making sure that the barrel wasn’t
blocked by the child safety slates.
Scarcely breathing, he pulled the trigger.
The dart landed true, hitting Ming in the butt.
The tiger jumped up and went berserk.
He roared and charged the window.
The building shook as the massive cat smashed into the window, cracking it.
As the tiger headbutted the window again, Duffy worried that the glass would give way.
If the big cat survived the fall, they’d have an angry, injured tiger on a crowded
Duffy took aim and shot again.
The second dart shot caused Ming to retreat.
He laid down in a nest of plastic trash bags.
About 12 minutes later the tiger tried to get up, but staggered, feeling the effects
of the sedation.
After waiting another five minutes, guarded by a group of Emergency Service Unit officers,
Dr. Cook and another zoo staffer cautiously entered the apartment.
Ming lay in a corner.
The zoo staff slipped a restraint pole around Ming’s head and gave him a little more sedative
by injection, to make sure he was sedated enough to transport.
Ming was then lifted onto a gurney.
A fire department oxygen mask was clamped to his face.
The gurney was carefully wheeled down the hall and into the elevator.
Once they were on the street, officers had to force the crowd back as a half dozen men
struggled to hoist Ming into the back of an Animal Care and Control box truck.
The police also removed Al the caiman, who was nearly 5 feet (1.5m) long, a rabbit and
several other exotic and domestic pets from the apartment.
Allegedly, Antoine had a second tiger, some bear cubs, two Rottweilers, more rabbits and
Ming was taken to the Center for Animal Care and Control on 110th Street and given a checkup.
Despite the fact that he was raised in a tiny New York apartment, the tiger was relatively
Meanwhile Antoine mysteriously checked out of the hospital.
Authorities finally located him in Philadelphia, where he was being treated at the University
of Pennsylvania Medical Center.
Antoine was arrested on charges of reckless endangerment and the possession of a wild
Eventually, he was able to get some pro bono help to fight the case.
He also had some support from people in the community.
During his court proceedings a small crowd gathered outside of the courthouse to chant
Antione’s lawyers presented him as maybe a little misguided, but someone who deeply
Later Martha Yates was charged with endangering the welfare of a child, since she kept foster
children in the apartment.
As part of a plea agreement to reduce charges against his mother, Antoine pleaded guilty
to reckless endangerment.
He was sentenced to a five-month prison term with five years probation.
Antoine was released after serving only three months.
He sued New York City for the loss of his pets and for $7000 cash which he claimed had
also been in the apartment when the police raided it.
A judge quickly dismissed the case, calling Antoine full of "chutzpah".
Since losing Ming and spending time in jail, Antoine’s life has been a bit of a mystery.
For a while Antoine tried to get a job with several different exotic professional animal
handlers, but no one wanted to work with him.
He was notorious and the idea of keeping a magnificent animal in a tiny apartment left
a bad taste in some people’s mouths.
In the intervening years, Antoine’s been interviewed at various times by the media.
A few documentaries have been made about the tiger raised in Harlem.
In October 2010, the Animal Planet channel featured the story of Antoine Yates and Ming
was on the show Fatal Attractions.
For some time, Antoine’s claimed to be on the verge of different deals to open a zoo
and get Ming back.
He’s also made many unverifiable claims about different jobs he’s had working with
Ming is now 19 and has lived at the Noah's Lost Ark Animal Sanctuary in Berlin Center,
Ohio after being moved there from the Center for Animal Care and Control in 2003.
Al was also rehomed to an animal sanctuary.
The tale of Antoine Yates and Ming admittedly is the most extreme case of owning an exotic
Though the number is slowly growing due to recent conservation programs, researchers
estimate that there are only about 4,000 tigers left in the wild worldwide.
There are a couple thousand tigers in the US, with upwards of 500 big cats privately
owned as pets.
Assuming they have the resources, do you think people should be allowed to keep wild or exotic
animals as pets, why or why not?
Let us know in the comments!
Also, be sure to check out our other video What If You Woke Up With Shark's Teeth?!
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