TODAY was a bittersweet moment for Australia Zoo director Wes Mannion as he provided media with a sneak peek into the African exhibit.

Not only was it the realisation of a decade-long vision, but the man who dreamt up the concept, his best friend Steve Irwin, was not there to share the moment with him.

"We walked this path a million times and Steve would tell me exactly what he wanted to see happen here and I would just take it all in," Wes said.

"There is something about mega fauna that really captivated him and this exhibition has always been on the agenda for the zoo."

Open to the public on Saturday, the Africa exhibit features four zebra, four giraffe and three rhino, including the not-so-little Savannah who was born at the zoo in April and already weighs an impressive 300kgs.

Visitors on safari shuttles will be able to watch the exotic animals roam freely in the 10ha African-inspired plains - a first for Queensland.

Plans for the next two stages include Madagascar Island and a cheetah run, which will allow the fastest land-based animals to reach speeds of 80kms an hour.

Entry to the Africa exhibit is included in Australia Zoo admission.

DON'T miss our exclusive reports on Saturday after Sunshine Coast Daily photojournalist Nic Falconer spent a weekend with the Irwin family at their remote St George property, a place never visited by media.



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