Ming the Tiger, the picture of impressive heft and handsome stripes, died peacefully in February — and we're only just hearing about it now. So, apologies for the delay in getting this obituary up, but take comfort: Ming lived a full life, "side by side to other rescued big cats, chuffing his salutations to his tiger companions, lounging in the sun, and feeling grass under his paws," Ming's photographer, Henry Jones, told the NY Daily News. “We will miss him and cherish our memories of him. Ming was a majestic animal and quite a character. We love and honor him."
Almost 16 years to the day have passed since three-year-old Ming, who already weighed a reported 250 pounds, clawed his way out of a Harlem apartment and into the headlines. A man named Antoine Yates had been keeping the Siberian-Bengal mix, a native Minnesotan, as part of his DIY menagerie in the Drew Hamilton Houses: Ming's roommates included an alligator named Al, and briefly, a kitten named Shadow. Before the kitten showed up, Ming was allegedly affectionate, licking Yates's "bald head" and demanding his owner hold him. "He would literally lay right across me and wouldn’t fall asleep unless his body was sprawled across mine," Yates once told the NY Post. Yates spoon-fed Ming pureed meats when he was small, then whole chickens when he was bigger. The two reportedly formed a very close bond, one that Yates — "devastated" over the news of Ming's passing — has not forgotten.
So maybe, when Yates brought Shadow home, Ming felt his place in their kingdom threatened; like he could not compete with this cute young thing, mewling for their owner's attention. Who can say what went on inside Ming's head, but either way, Ming tried to kill his nemesis. One day, he lunged at the kitten, and when Yates tried to shield the cat baby from death by tiger teeth, Ming bit him in the leg. "He was just trying to get me out of the way," Yates insisted to the Post, but no matter: Yates still had to go to the hospital. He tried to tell doctors he'd been bitten by a pit bull, but they still called the police.
The NYPD Emergency Services Unit showed up at Yates's apartment on October 3rd, 2003, and confirmed that, yes, there was a tiger in there, and yes, they now had the unfortunate task of getting it out. That mission involved a cop repelling down the side of the housing complex, aiming a tranquilizer gun through the window, and shooting the agitated tiger as he rampaged inside the unit. Ming put up a fight, charging the window and breaking the glass, but ultimately, he was subdued. Animal experts and ESU cops carried him out of the building on a stretcher, and eventually, he was transported to Noah’s Lost Ark Exotic Animal Rescue Center in Ohio. Yates, meanwhile, went to jail.
"[Ming] lived a really good life here,” Ellen Karnofel, owner of the sanctuary, told the NY Daily News. According to the outlet, Ming's moods "varied from happy to annoyed," which is true for all of us. After a decade on the premises, he was finally allowed human visitors — a great treat, because he reportedly enjoyed people watching.
“He was able to run and play on the grounds," Karnofel said. "He had tiger friends. He had a swimming pool. He was able to experience the elements." What more could anyone ask?
Ming died of kidney and heart failure on February 4th. He was 19 years old, which is older than most tigers get to be in the wild, and about right for a tiger in captivity. He was cremated and interred at the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery in Westchester on April 20th, in what the cemetery's vice president, Ed Martin III, described to the NY Post as "a very small affair." According to those who knew him, that's what Ming would have wanted. He was a "private" tiger, Karnofel told the Daily News. "He had this big spectacle of when he was rescued and brought here. He deserved some peace."
And now he will get it. Good night, sweet prince. You were "loved by many."