Ming of Harlem: How a 400-pound tiger found in a tiny NY apartment shocked the US decades before 'Tiger King'

Ming of Harlem: How a 400-pound tiger found in a tiny NY apartment shocked the US decades before 'Tiger King'
Ming of Harlem (Getty Images)

Decades before the world became obsessed with 'Tiger King' Joe Exotic, a Harlem cabbie, dubbed the 'Tiger Man', was living in an apartment with a big cat of his own.

As millions got stuck indoors over the past month amid coronavirus pandemic, Netflix's seven-part docuseries, 'Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, Madness' made waves across the internet. The hit show recounts the story of a group of exotic pet owners spread across the United States who clashed against each other time and again, often engaging in polygamy, plotting murders — all the while tending to big cats.

While the series is a fantastical account of real-life events, it's obvious that the show had viewers wondering who in the right mind would keep an apex predator as a pet.

But it turns out there are plenty of exotic pet owners in North America, and they have been around longer than you may think.

In 2003, long before 'Tiger King' came into our lives, there was Antoine Yates.


The press dubbed him 'Tiger Man' after police discovered that he had been living with a 400-pound tiger in his Harlem apartment.

What's more? Upon gaining access to his apartment, authorities also discovered a five-foot alligator being kept in a fiberglass tank.

Yates' neighbors did take notice of the exotic little furball he brought back one day to his Harlem housing project.


“I remember him bringing home this little tiger cub,” Jerome Applewhite, a former neighbor, told the New York Times. “When he told me what it was, I knew it was going to grow up to be some big animal.”


It was a Bengal tiger cub, and it went on to grow into a 400-pound giant during the three years it spent with Antoine in Apartment 5E of the Drew Hamilton Houses. 

Yates, a cab driver who was then in his mid-30s, named the beast Ming and kept him “to show the whole world that we could all get along," he later told The New York Times.

He fed the tiger 20 pounds of chicken parts per day and even built a sandpit in his room, until one day the police found out about his downtown lair.


Suspicions were aroused when Yates once paid a visit to the hospital with a severe injury on his leg, which he tried to convince medical personnel was caused by a pit bull.

However, doctors knew better and alerted the police, who then proceeded to place a camera in his apartment and confirmed there was indeed a 400-pound tiger living there.

Like a scene straight out of an action movie sequence, police rappelled down the sides of the apartment building and fired a tranquilizer dart to sedate the beast.


Meanwhile, Yates was sentenced to three months in prison and put on probation for a further five years. In a conversation with the New York Times, however, he still maintained he had done nothing wrong.


Ming the tiger and Al the alligator would be relocated to a sanctuary in Ohio, where the majestic beast died of natural causes in 2019.

Ming's cremated remains received a grand homecoming before they were interred at the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery in Westchester County — just 17 miles from the Harlem apartment where the famous tiger had spent his childhood.

After a modest service, the cemetery honored his memory with a stone monument facing south toward New York. It read, “Ming, Tiger of Harlem.” 


The Times asked Antoine Yates if he enjoyed 'Tiger King'.

“I was turned off by it,” he said. “It just shows how ignorant these so-called exotic animal lovers can be.”

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