Its a 5 foot caiman, not a 3 foot alligator.
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 might have picked up his boundless affection for living creatures 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 suburb of Philadelphia earlier 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 enough to keep a paw the size of a lunch plate from swiping through, neighbors said.
On Saturday, the 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 an assortment of officials.
The police are trying to determine where Yates got a tiger cub and how he managed to raise it from cuddly kitten to nearly quarter-ton menace in a public housing project 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 building on Adam Clayton Powell Blvd. said that 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, they said.
Jerome Applewhite, 43, who lives on the 18th floor, first encountered Ming about three years ago, when he stopped into the apartment for a visit and saw Yates sitting with the tiger cub cradled in his arms.
"It was a house pet," Applewhite said. "To me that is cool."
City officials did not share this view.
"Tigers are dangerous animals," Mayor Michael Bloomberg told reporters on Sunday at a news conference. "Clearly this tiger should not have been in anyplace in New York City outside of a zoo."
Investigators from the New York City Police Department on Sunday were questioning Yates, who was placed under guard after he turned up at a Philadelphia hospital. On Wednesday, he had gone to the Harlem Hospital Center,
where he told skeptical doctors the bites on an arm and a leg were from a pit bull. He checked out early Saturday, prompting an inquiry into his whereabouts.
He has not been charged, the police said, but he may face reckless endangerment and other charges.
The tiger, along with a 5-foot-long alligator-like reptile called a caiman that was also 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.
No one at the Drew-Hamilton Houses who knew Yates was sure on Sunday exactly how Yates came to have a tiger cub. But he was well known there as an outsized character who, above all else, loved animals.
"Every time I have ever seen him, he was talking about his exotic animals," said Wanda Tompkins, 26, whose family has lived in the apartment directly below Yates' for the past five years