WALDO, Fla. (AP) _ A zoo owner who was bitten as two leopard-jaguar hybrids escaped said he was upset that wildlife officers killed the big cats but understood why they did it.

''I feel safe with the rest of my animals here,'' said Gene Schuler, who with wife Rusti runs the 9-year-old Waldo Wild Animal Retirement Village near Gainesville.

''The cats escaping is just one of those things that happen. I feel bad they had to kill them, but they did what they could,'' Schuler said after the female cat was shot Tuesday.

''When it started to move and growl at me, my options were out,'' explained John Duncan, a Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission officer, after tranquilizing efforts failed.

The 220-pound male was killed Monday soon after it escaped from the cage it shared with the female. The zoo, which is open to the public, is home to about 80 animals, including lions, tigers, elephants and birds. The Schulers take care of old or unwanted animals.

Schuler, 56, was feeding the cats Monday when the male jumped him, wounding his left arm.

''I think the male cat bit me because he wanted to get to the chimpanzee cage, and I was in between them. I was really scared for my life, but I knew how to behave in front of the animals in the face of danger,'' he said.

The cats then escaped from their cage by popping out rotted wood.

Schuler was treated for bite wounds and released from Alachua General Hospital in Gainesville.

Barry Cook, a supervisor for the state game commission, said Shuler could face charges for allowing the animals to escape, a second-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of $500.