N.Y. tiger owner is released without bail after arraignment

Man injured by big cat calls it his `only friend,' also kept a crocodile

October 08, 2003|By Daryl Khan and Rocco Parascandola | Daryl Khan and Rocco Parascandola,NEWSDAY

NEW YORK - Antoine Yates, the Harlem man with the pet tiger, walked out of court yesterday and professed his devotion to the feline he calls "my only friend."

Yates, who burst from anonymity Saturday when police engaged in an hours-long standoff before subduing Ming, a 425-pound big cat, was arraigned yesterday on charges of reckless endangerment and possession of a wild animal.

He was released without bail, allowing him a platform outside court to profess his love for Ming and to dismiss any notions he was in danger when the tiger attacked him - despite injuries that left him walking with a limp and his arm in a sling.

"I never feared him at all," said Yates, 31. "He was like my brother. He was my best friend. He's my only friend, really."

The devoted animal lover became a wanted man during the weekend when police discovered the tiger in his apartment.

Earlier in the week, Yates had gone to Harlem Hospital, telling doctors he had been attacked by a pit bull. He then went to Philadelphia, and police found Ming and Al, Yates' 5 1/2 -foot-long crocodile, in the apartment.

Authorities are trying to find out what Yates did with a lion he apparently purchased in Minnesota and had kept for some time in his home.

Police found in his apartment a receipt from the purchase, as well as a proposal Yates had drawn up to create his own wildlife preserve. Police also suspect that Yates, who had lived in the public housing apartment for 13 years, kept a llama there at some point.

To neighbors, none of this was much of a surprise. Many knew about Ming and Al, though no one had thought to call police.

It was that love of animals, however, that eventually led to Yates' arrest. Sometime last week, a neighbor, aware of Yates' reputation, left a black and white kitten outside the door of his fifth-floor apartment.

Yates dubbed the kitten Shadow and added him to his menagerie. According to Yates, while he and Shadow were playing "Hey, Buddy, Buddy," an affectionate call and response routine, Ming made a run at Shadow.

Yates said he stepped between the big cat and the kitten and was knocked to the ground by the hard-charging Ming.

"I tried with all my might to stop him from getting this cat," Yates said. "So he pulled down one paw on my chest. Once he realized it was me, he let it go. He tried to struggle away and that's when I put my forearm up. He grabbed me real hard and munched on my arm. Then he grabbed my leg.

"If he didn't realize, `Hey Ming, it's me,' I would have been gone," Yates added. "I said, `Ming, no!'"

Yates' lawyer argued successfully for no bail, saying Yates was only protecting Ming and he called the police from Philadelphia once he realized he was being sought.

After the arraignment, a handful of onlookers threw their support behind Yates, one clapping in approval, another noting Yates was kind-hearted.

Newsday is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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