In 1962, Bernard Waber wrote The House on East 88th Street, a story about the Primms, a family who purchased a townhouse in Manhattan only to find that someone was already living there — Lyle, a crocodile. The book spawned a sequel, Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile, published in 1965, as well as a few others in later years.
It’s possible that Antoine Yates grew up on the Lyle series. We don’t know. But we do know that in 2003, the 31 year old Yates was found making Waber’s works of fiction into something of a reality.
According to CNN, on October 1, 2003, New York City police officers responded to a dog bite complaint at a public housing apartment building in Harlem. Yates, the bite victim, was taken to the hospital and received treatment. The next day, one of his neighbors anonymously tipped off the police to the true nature of the bites — there was some sort of wild animal living in the building. After another tip and interviews of other building residents, the police cut a hole in Yates’ door. Inside, they saw Ming, a two year old Bengal tiger.
The apartment was — beyond the fact that there was a 400 to 500 pound Bengal tiger living there — a disheveled mess. So police decided to rappel down the outside of the building and have a sniper, armed with a gun loaded with animal tranquilizers, shoot sedatives at the animal through one of Yates’ windows. That weekend, an officer did exactly that, and the tiger apparently jumped toward the window, breaking the glass in the process. But the sniper did his job, unharmed, and the tiger was subdued.
Police entered the apartment soon after and removed the tiger, sending it to an animal shelter. But once inside, another surprise waited — a 280 pound alligator. That animal was also brought to the shelter.
Also per CNN, Yates was charged with a felony charge of reckless endangerment and two counts of possession of a wild animal. He claimed that he was building an animal sanctuary and was soon to procure the requisite land for Ming and his alligator friend, Al, to frolic freely upon. The court did not buy his excuse; Yates served a six month prison stint while Ming and Al were relocated to Ohio and New Jersey, respectively. Despite this, Yates did not give up. As Gothamist noted, after his release from prison, he sued the city for $7,000 for wrongfully seizing his roommates and taking cash he allegedly had hidden in his apartment.
He lost his lawsuit.
Bonus fact: Alligators and crocodiles both are in the same biological order (crocodylia) but belong to different biological families. How can one tell them apart? The San Diego Zoo explains that alligators tend to have U-shaped jaws while crocodiles have sharper, V-shaped ones; the fourth tooth on the lower jaw of crocodiles is exposed when their mouths are closed — this is not so for alligators; and while both have glands on their tongues which allow the beasts to expell excess salt, the crocodiles’ work better, so they prefer saltwater environments while alligators prefer freshwater ones. The image above? It’s an alligator.
From the Archives: Old York, New York: A hidden, throwback street in Manhattan. With no wild animals.