Tiger Man can't change stripes
BY JOSE MARTINEZ
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
The tiger man still loves you, Ming.
Antoine Yates - who famously kept a 425-pound tiger in an apartment in a Harlem housing project - hasn't stopped fantasizing about a reunion with Ming.
"Not a day goes by that I don't think of Ming," Yates said. "I'm still hurting, hurting every day."
In October 2003, cops staged a commando raid to pull the Bengal tiger out of the Drew Hamilton Houses, where Yates' menagerie also included Al the caiman and a kitten named Shadow.
The bizarre animal adventure made headlines internationally, eventually landed Yates in Rikers Island and sent the striped beast packing to an animal preserve in Ohio.
Yates has not seen the big cat since 2003, but he remains on probation for charges related to his tiger tale. Still living in Harlem, Yates has traded down for a cat and an African gray parrot.
"I'm teaching the parrot tricks," he said. "He's learning how to ride a bike."
But Yates, 32, refuses to give up on seeing Ming again. Days after being separated from the tiger he calls "my best friend," Yates roared, "I love you Ming!" outside Manhattan Criminal Court.
More recently, he has taken his Free Ming campaign to the silver screen, where he was the subject of "Harlem Tigerman," a documentary featured last month at the Hollywood Black Film Festival.
And he has no doubt that, even after all this time, the tiger would still recognize him.
"For sure he would," said Yates, who bought Ming as an 8-week-old cub from a Minnesota wildlife park. "It would be like a cub reuniting with his mother."
"We live in the ghetto, and the only exotic animals I saw were in the zoo," Yates said. "So I brought the zoo to the ghetto."
However far-fetched it may be, Yates keeps alive his dream of someday running a zoo in Pennsylvania - where, naturally, Ming would be the star attraction.
"Yes, he's a tiger, but he's really just a big house cat," Yates said. "I'll never give up on seeing Ming again."
No, he isn't.
This guy had a tiger in a project apartment. He'd even walk him around. Now, unless you have millions to spend, a New York apartment is not tiger-friendly. Crazy is a kind word for a man who would keep a tiger in an apartment.
He didn't seem to understand that the tiger might eat his entire family. The concept of tiger-human consumption eluded him.
As Chris Rock said of the tiger who attacked Roy of Siegfried and Roy said the tiger wasn't acting crazy, he was acting like a tiger. It was doing those tricks which made him seem crazy.
posted by Steve @ 3:40:00 PM