Animal lover raised tiger, caiman in N.Y. apartment

Sharpshooter ropes down building, darts big cat

officials seek answers

October 06, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

NEW YORK - 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, she 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 400 pounds 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 Philadelphia suburb 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.

On Saturday, 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 tranquilizer 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 officials.

Police are trying to determine where Yates got a tiger cub and how he managed to raise it from a cuddly kitten to a nearly quarter-ton menace in a public housing development 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 on Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard said 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, the residents said.

Investigators from the New York Police Department were questioning Yates, who was placed under guard after he turned up at a Philadelphia hospital.

He has not been charged, police said, but he could face reckless endangerment and other charges.

The tiger, along with a 5-foot-long alligatorlike reptile called a caiman that was found in the apartment, were taken to a New York animal shelter and have been sent to live in a wildlife preserve in Ohio, city officials said.

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