NEW YORK – A man who raised a tiger in his New York City apartment told Fox News on Monday that 400-pound Ming was "more than a friend" to him.
"He was like my child, my brother," said Antoine Yates (search), 31, on "Fox News Live." "He was everything to me."
Yates was freed from prison last week after he was arrested on charges of reckless endangerment and possession of a wild animal. He faces up to seven years behind bars if he's convicted of reckless endangerment.
The orange and white Siberian-Bengal mix (search) was discovered in Yates' Harlem apartment earlier this month after the cat bit him on the arm and leg. Yates originally told doctors at the hospital that he'd been attacked by a pit bull, but that story didn't ring true considering the nature of his injuries.
Yates' lawyer, Raymond Colon, said his client lied because he didn't want Ming to be killed. Judge Melissa Jackson last week rejected a prosecutor's argument that Yates should be held on $15,000 bail because he misled doctors about his injuries and then fled to Philadelphia.
Yates said Ming was lunging for another one of his pets, a kitten, and accidentally bit Yates when he tried to come between the two animals. Yates doesn't believe Ming meant to hurt him.
"He didn't really, truly hurt me. It was an accident," Yates told Fox.
It's unclear where Yates got the 20-month-old Ming, whom he's had in the apartment since the tiger was six weeks old, but there is a thriving black market for exotic wild animals.
He described bringing Ming home as a cub and then seeing him quickly grow bigger and bigger.
"He grew. I got attached," Yates told Fox. He said he misses the tiger and wants to visit him.
Ming was transported to Noah's Lost Ark (search), a licensed facility in Berlin Center, Ohio, that takes in abused and neglected exotic animals.
"He appears to be in pretty good shape, all things considered," said Dr. Alvin Burger, a veterinarian at the sanctuary who examined Ming twice last week. Burger said the cat has a healthy coat and is about the right size for his age.
Animal control officers, police and Bronx Zoo workers shot tranquilizer darts at Ming on Oct. 4 and then hauled him away. They also found a 5-foot-long alligator in the fifth-floor apartment, which was also tranquilized and taken to a sanctuary.
Assistant District Attorney Jeremy Saland said last week that Yates was a "man trying to create an animal sanctuary in his apartment. He suggested that Yates once had a pet lion.
"It's clear this defendant's actions were extremely reckless," Saland said.
Yates told Fox News on Monday that he didn't have a lion or any of the other animals he was said to have owned.
"I've heard rumors of giraffes and so forth," he said. "There was none of that."
Defense lawyer Colon told Fox that his client tried to be as careful as possible with Ming.
"My client went to great lengths to keep this animal away from the public," Colon said. "This giant cat was never a danger to anyone."
Yates told Fox he wants to house more wild animals in the future — but he plans to be more careful.
"As far as having animals, I would do it under the guidelines of the law," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.