Human Interest

I rescued a tiger from an NYC apartment — and other animal tales from Bronx Zoo honcho’s 50 years on the job

It’s a Bronx tail.

For 125 years, the Bronx Zoo has dazzled and inspired visitors with exotic and beautiful creatures like gorillas and tigers and lemurs — oh, my!

“Guests love to see the care, the dedication and the passion that our staff have for making sure that these animals were well cared for,” Jim Breheny, director of the Bronx Zoo and a Throggs Neck native, 64, told The Post.

“There’s the connection and the bond they have between each other.”

In honor of the quasquicentennial jubilee, the Bronx Zoo is rolling out a new quarter-mile walking trail of beastly art on Saturday called Animal Chronicles, which features 13 unique environmental scenes, 68 sculptures of critters and more artistic nods to the zoo’s illustrious history in animal rescue.

“It’s just amazing, you know?” Breheny said. “People say you can learn something from talking to anybody. It’s the same thing here. You can learn something from interacting with any animal.”

Jim Breheny, director of the Bronx Zoo and a Throggs Neck native. LP Media

He’s enjoyed this unique connection firsthand for quite some time: Breheny has been at the zoo for 51 years, starting with a role at the children’s zoo when he was 14 in the early 1970s. As a young animal lover, Breheny admitted he simply filled out a form, made a call and was hired.

“No, I never thought I would be in this position,” he joked of his current job title.

Mane attraction

During his five decades on the job, Breheny has interacted with all of the zoo’s creatures, including working the camel rides in his early years. However, some of the wildest stories with the animals happened outside the confines of the zoo — but still on the job.

“People say you can learn something from talking to anybody,” Breheny said. “It’s the same thing here. You can learn something from interacting with any animal.” LP Media

In 2003, Breheny, who has a graduate degree in biology from Fordham, was attending a speech on responsible pet ownership when, ironically, he was summoned to yank a tiger illegally kept inside a Harlem apartment.

“I honestly didn’t believe it. I thought it would be like an ocelot or a bobcat,” he recalled. “People exaggerate all the time.”

It turned out to be Ming, the infamous “fully grown” tiger who “took up the entire apartment,” and Breheny and his team were responsible for getting the tiger out of the apartment. It took two doses of sedatives to knock the big guy out.

While the Ming rescue has been the most adrenaline-pumping incident of Breheny’s tenure, there were other eventful incidents involving “venomous snakes” over the years, too.

Police remove tiger from the Drew Hamilton Houses on Adam Clayton Powell Blvd and W. 141st. St. in Harlem that had been kept in a resident’s apartment. Helayne Seidman

Around 2005, Breheny had been in talks with the Pakistani government to obtain Leo, a rare snow leopard who brought new genetics into the species population.

“His genetic contribution through breeding was really important to the snow leopard population in North America,” said Breheny, who noted cubs of a few generations past are currently on display.

Numerous animal inhabitants also evolved into celebrity attractions at the Fordham Road institution, going all the way back to the 1903 snow leopard attraction, North America’s first showcasing of the species.

In 1990, Rapunzel the Sumatran rhinoceros — a currently endangered species — was a fan favorite until her death in 2005.

Breheny most remembers her “easy-going” demeanor and as a “great animal.”

The Children’s Zoo at the Bronx Zoo opens on April 1, 1943. Bettmann Archive

There was also Pattycake, the first gorilla born in NYC. In 1972, she was born in the Central Park Zoo, but broke her arm young and was transferred to the Bronx Zoo. She became an incredibly important permanent resident in the early 1980s before she died at 40 in 2013.

“That was the first gorilla that we raised. She was certainly a charismatic animal,” Breheny said.

“We learned how much infant gorillas are like infant humans.”

As the majestic gorilla grew, integrated and bred, she also was one of the first to start painting. Breheny has one of her final works inside his office.

Born to be wild

Since 1899, the zoo — a haven for alligators, lemurs, penguins, poison dart frogs and more from around the world — has blazed a trail in the field of animal care.

“One of the biggest advancements I’ve seen is how the animals and staff interact through advances in behavioral enrichment and training,” said Breheny.

He added that while years ago, animals would have to be put under anesthetic for blood work tests, now trained workers are able to safely collect samples while the patients are fully conscious.

Even with big cats, picking up their tail to draw blood can be safely executed. \

Cuban dictator Fidel Castro with a Bengal tiger at the Bronx Zoo on April 24, 1959. Getty Images

Initiatives like this began in 1901. While still in its infancy, the zoo launched the first American veterinary program in a zoological park, which evolved into a full-on animal hospital in 1916.

More so, the beastly oasis, first called the New York Zoological Park, was intentionally created to play a pivotal role in preservation — a stark contrast to what the nation had seen at the 19th century’s turn. The tourism magnet was a happy coincidence.

“When they were planning the zoo around 1895, everyone in America still had the idea, ‘This is just another circus-type of thing,’ ” Angel Hernandez, the official historian of the Bronx Borough President’s Office, told The Post.

“There was no place to study the animals, their habitats and the countries they originated from,” Hernandez said. “So the idea was that the New York Zoological Park was to be innovative and to address these issues — and to give more animals space.”