Tue, Oct 07, 2003 - Page 16 News List

A New York tiger and alligator make it out of the projects

The animals were found in a Harlem apartment when the man who was raising them went to hospital after being bitten


His obsession began innocently enough, with the puppies and broken-winged birds every little boy begs to bring home. Over the years, Antoine Yates' taste in animals grew ever more exotic, neighbors said, and his collection came to include reptiles, a monkey or two, and according to one neighbor, even a hyena.

He had a boundless affection for living creatures that he might have picked up from his mother, Martha Yates. Over the years, Martha Yates raised dozens of foster children in her five-bedroom apartment in a public housing high-rise in Harlem, according to one of her foster sons.

But when Yates' most exotic pet -- a tiger that he named Ming -- grew to more than 180kg and let loose a fearsome roar, that happy home disintegrated. Terrified by the beast, Martha Yates packed up the last two of her foster children and moved to a suburb of Philadelphia earlier this year, neighbors said.

Yates, increasingly hard pressed to control the tiger, apparently decamped, too, to a nearby apartment. He continued to feed the beast by throwing raw chickens through a door opened just narrowly enough to keep a paw the size of a lunch plate from swiping through, neighbors said.

Last Saturday, the police moved in, alerted by Yates' curious call in which he claimed to have been bitten by a pit bull. They found Ming and removed the tiger from Apartment 5E after it was shot with tranquilizers darts by a sharpshooter who rappelled down the side of the apartment house. The mission created a swirl of excitement in the neighborhood and left a series of questions for an assortment of officials.

The police are trying to determine where Yates got a tiger cub and how he managed to raise it from cuddly kitten to full adult size in a public housing project for several years.

Officials at the city's Administration for Children's Services said they were trying to determine whether foster children had lived in the apartment while the tiger and other dangerous animals were there. And officials of the New York City Housing Authority were trying to determine how the tiger escaped the notice of workers at the complex.

People who live in the high-rise apartment building in the Drew-Hamilton Houses at 2430 Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard said that the tiger had lived among them for at least three years. His presence, while strange, was widely known, and it did not really alarm anyone, they said.

Jerome Applewhite, 43, who lives on the 18th floor, first encountered Ming about three years ago, when he stopped into the apartment for a visit and saw Yates sitting with the tiger cub cradled in his arms.

"He was feeding it with a bottle," Applewhite said. "He cared for his pets."

The presence of a creature only seen in the far east -- or north, if one includes the Bronx Zoo -- in a New York City apartment did not surprise him much, he said.

"It was a house pet," Applewhite said. "To me that is cool."

City officials did not share this view.

"Tigers are dangerous animals," Mayor Michael Bloomberg told reporters on Sunday at a news conference on Fifth Avenue before marching in the Pulaski Day Parade. "Clearly this tiger should not have been in anyplace in New York City outside of a zoo."

Investigators from the New York City Police Department questioned Yates, who was placed under guard after he turned up at a Philadelphia hospital. On Saturday he went to Harlem Hospital Center, where he told skeptical doctors the bites on an arm and a leg were from a pit bull. He checked out early Friday, prompting an inquiry into his whereabouts.

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