Thursday, January 5, 2012

Ming and friends

Maybe you know this story already.  It's kind of old, from 2003 -- the story of Ming, a 400-pound, 2-year-old tiger, kept as a pet in a 5th floor apartment in Harlem.  I stumbled across the story through some bizarre route that I can't re-create, in a series of photos called New York's Urban Jungle on the New York Daily News.  From there I googled onward, hungry for details.  Delicious!  In my mind's eye, I am reading the story as a children's picture book.  If such a thing already exists, somebody gives me the heads up, por favor.

I wholeheartedly agree that people shouldn't keep "exotic" animals as pets.  At the same time, I am sure I am not alone in wanting to Dr. Doolittle my way through life, have lions as friends, owls as companions.  Can you imagine a tiger in your house?  In your apartment building?  

Even the Wiki entry is delightful -- earning this finger-wag in December 2007, "reads more like a story than an encyclopedia entry.  To meet Wikipedia's quality standards and conform to the neutral point of view policy, please help to introduce a more formal style and remove any personally invested tone." Here's why:
Ming was a young tiger, approximately 2 years old, who lived in an apartment on the 5th floor of a large living complex in Harlem, New York in 2003.
His owner, Antoine Yates had several pets in his home, both normal and exotic. At the same time that he was keeping Ming in one of his bedrooms, he was raising an alligator named “Al” in another bedroom.
Ming's existence became known and reported in the media when Yates appeared at a nearby hospital emergency room with deep bite marks in his thigh. He claimed that his pet pit bull had bitten him, but the medical personnel were suspicious, because the width of the bite marks suggested an animal with a very large jaw.
While Yates was being treated, a New York City policeman was sent to his home address to investigate. Loud growling noises could be heard through the door of the apartment, causing the officer to avoid entering. Another police officer was sent to the roof, from which he lowered himself on a rope sling to peer in through the apartment’s windows. Ming attempted to attack him, nearly breaking through the window, frightening the officer. An animal control team was then sent into the apartment, which anesthetized the tiger and also discovered the alligator.
Subsequent questioning of the neighbors determined that the existence of the tiger was a sort of urban legend: some people believed it lived there, while others had always doubted it. One fact that turned up was that Yates regularly bought large quantities of raw chicken at the local supermarket, and it was a standing joke in the building that he could eat so much chicken every day.
Do you know that Yates, crazy brave soul, even rented rooms out in that very apartment?  One roommate said she got used to living with a man-eater down the hall.   It just gets better and better.  How not to love the the police officer who was lowered down the face of the building, to peer in at Ming through the window and shoot him with a tranquilizer.  Favorite quote: "I’m not gonna lie – you have to be pretty nervous. This is a 500lbs tiger at the top of the animal chain. You just have to suck it up and be a man."

So, wait: how exactly did this start?  How did Antoine Yates end up with that apartment tiger?  Backstory courtesy of The Daily Mail UK:
His family had planned to open a zoo, he says - so he ended up pretending they already had one to con his way into owning two tigers and two lions.
He ended up getting rid of three of them - but was too attached to Ming to let it go.
"My relationship with Ming was very, very unique," he insisted. "We had a bond that was unbelievable."
Ming grew to be a 500lbs adult tiger -  but this wild beast had never left Antoine's small apartment in the Harlem high rise while his owner chose to remain with the jungle cat.
"To be close to such a beautiful animal 24 hours a day is magical. I began to really understand a big cat," he claimed.
"At that point I was ready to disconnect from the world."
Their dangerous relationship emerged when Antoine's brother Aaron visited and was stunned to meet the feline resident.
"All I see is one eye almost the size of a pool ball. I jumped back and shouted, 'Yo what you doing man!'," Aaron recalled.
"[Antoine] said, 'I told you, man, this is serious'. I said, 'No, man, this is beyond serious - this is crazy."
And the video with the Aaron (clip below) AWESOME.  But don't watch if you have issues with Language.    "It was raw, you know what I'm sayin'?  It was a mother-fuckin' tiger."  Antoine just wanted to build a utopia, you know, because all around him all he saw was destruction.  Priceless.

Ming now lives at Noah's Lost Ark, a sanctuary for unwanted and/or abused exotic animals in Bethany, Ohio. Antoine Yates went to jail for 6 months and now lives in Vegas, goes by Antoine Tigerman Yates and has 22 big cats.  He has plans to be the first African-American zoo owner and is in negotiations, according to the Free Ming Foundation Facebook page, to create an 800-acre conservation and zoo site in Nevada.  He wants Ming back.

I'm not saying that everything is right and perfect about this story.  Maybe that's what makes it such a good story, that it's filled with extremes -- good intentions gone awry, dreams that are too big for the apartment they live in, kittens that grow into man-eaters.  And hold up: apparently even Michael Jackson, Kool & The Gang, Louis Farakhan and the auto dealer Jaguar make an appearance.

The American Dream, man.  Sometimes it has really big mother-fuckin' teeth.

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