By October 1, 2003, only Ming and Al the alligator remained, along with a stray black cat Yates had found on his doorstep. That morning, Ming watched the smaller cat carefully as it stretched in the apartment's cramped hallway. The tiger tensed and shifted, stalking. Then he leaped. Yates saw the attack out of the corner of his eye and moved to stop it, pulling at Ming's fur. The animal mauled his knee and right arm, leaving large gashes. The smaller cat was unscathed. Yates went to hospital, where he claimed he'd been attacked by a pit bull.
Days later, police were tipped off that a very large animal might have bitten someone in Harlem. Their investigations led them to Yates. A downstairs neighbor told them Yates was keeping a tiger, and even complained that urine had seeped through her ceiling. Cutting into Yates' door, they "saw the large tiger pass by the open hole," according to comments made at the time by Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. Officers rappelled down the building and shot Ming with a tranquilizer dart—the tiger broke a window charging at the dangling marksmen.
Ming and Al were sent to sanctuaries. Yates spent five months in jail for reckless endangerment. "Nothing any tiger could do compares to what the system done to me," he says. The owner of Bearcat Hollow, where Yates bought his big cats, pleaded guilty in 2005 to seven federal counts connected with illegal trading in wild animals.
Because moving tigers across state lines is now illegal much of the trade is underground, or at least conducted quietly. So it is difficult to obtain a precise figure for the number of tiger breeders in the U.S. Several alleged breeders contacted by NEWSWEEK refused to be interviewed. Those who rescue unwanted or mistreated tigers suggest the number must be in the hundreds. Until recently, the absence of strict federal and state laws meant "tigers were selling for thousands," says Emily McCormack, a zoologist at Turpentine Creek, a refuge in Arkansas which rescues big cats, "One breeder told me that if his tigers had two broods of three or four cubs a year, he was already earning more than the average American."