That Time a Tiger Was Found in a Harlem Apartment

In 2021, an old story resurfaced on Reddit. The tiger wasn't alone, either.

Published June 11, 2021

 (Jordan Liles/Reddit App)
Image courtesy of Jordan Liles/Reddit App

On June 10, 2021, a Reddit post on the r/interestingasfuck subreddit resurfaced a picture from quite the wild story. Just how wild? The photograph from 2003 showed a 400-pound tiger named Ming being removed from a fifth-floor Harlem apartment in New York.

However, Ming the tiger wasn't alone.

The Saturday Oct. 4, 2003, police raid of the apartment also led to the discovery of an alligator.

Smuggling a Tiger into New York City

How does someone bring a tiger to their fifth-floor Harlem apartment without anyone noticing?

According to The Associated Press, a man named Antione Yates purchased the "orange and white Siberian-Bengal mix" and brought him into the apartment when "he was a 6-week-old cub."

Other accounts claimed that Ming the tiger was brought to the Harlem apartment when he was 8 weeks old.

In any case, "Ming quickly went from bottle feeding to consuming 20 pounds of chicken thighs a day," reported The New York Times.

The tiger in the Harlem apartment eventually "got to be too much for [Yates]," so he lived at a different apartment and only returned to the one with the tiger for feeding time.

How Police Found Out

According to the New Jersey newspaper The Record, Yates "sought emergency care at Harlem hospital" on Wednesday, Oct. 1. This was three days before the raid. "He told the doctors the bites had been inflicted by a pit bull."

However, the bites to his right arm and leg were described as "spectacular" and "horrifying." They did not appear to be the result of a dog attack.

About two days later, on the day before police found the tiger in the Harlem apartment, Yates went to a Philadelphia hospital for further treatment. At the same time, police followed up on a tip regarding large animals being "pent up" inside an apartment.

The Record reported that a New York police officer sprang into action:

A sergeant climbed out of a window on the seventh floor and rappelled down the bricks. The tiger saw the sergeant outside and lunged at the window, cracking the glass.

The sergeant had an immobilizing dart gun. The window was half-open. He fired, hitting the tiger in the rump.

Twenty minutes later the animal keeled over, unconscious. Then it just took eight cops to strap it onto a stretcher and move it to the ground floor, where a truck with a cage waited.

The picture of the officer rappelling on the side of the building was captured by John Roca.

The Harlem apartment was located at 2430 Adam Clayton Powell Jr Blvd. It was part of a public housing project and had five bedrooms. Some New Yorkers might consider five bedrooms a dream.

Perhaps even stranger, neighbors had apparently known about the wild animal activity in the past. However, according to The Record, they "took it pretty much in stride" and "knew that [Yates] loved animals."

Buying a Tiger

Ming, now famous as the tiger found in a Harlem apartment, was purportedly purchased from the B.E.A.R.C.A.T. Hollow animal park in Racine, Minnesota.

We found several reports that mentioned Yates purchased other animals, including at least one lion cub, a cougar, and a jaguar. According to The New York Times, he also "filled out paperwork for the purchase of a leopard and a bear." We even found mentions of Yates buying "Rottweilers, rabbits, hyenas, monkeys, snakes, a llama, [and] a tarantula."

However, we recommend taking these claims with a grain of salt. Details are scarce regarding the veracity of all of these supposed additional animal purchases.

Al the Alligator

As for the alligator, which was named Al, reports varied regarding his size when he was removed from the Harlem apartment.

CNN published that Al was a "3-foot alligator." The New York Times reported he was five feet long. The Daily News said he was "5-and-a-half feet long." Smithsonian Magazine claimed he was "near six feet long." Another account said "a seven-foot alligator."

According to case documentation for Yates v. City of New York, Al was six feet long. This is likely the most trustworthy source for Al's size.

In 2003, The Associated Press reported that Al the alligator was sent to an Indiana preserve. We were unable to find any further information on what happened after this. It's also unclear if he is still alive nearly two decades later.

The Aftermath

Ming the Tiger was removed from the Harlem apartment and transferred to a wildlife refuge in Ohio. He died in 2019.

According to The New York Times, Yates served a 5-month prison sentence for reckless endangerment.

The Times also reported that his mother, Martha Yates, "was charged with endangering the welfare of a child" after she had been babysitting in the same apartment.

Jordan Liles is a Senior Reporter who has been with Snopes since 2016.

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