Symbio Wildlife Park staff are preparing for the arrival of lions, cheetahs, zebras, more koalas and reptiles within 18 months after receiving funding to start building three new exhibits.
But the Radnidge family only had time to celebrate briefly before getting busy finalising plans for the African savannah, reptile and interactive koala breeding exhibits.
Visitor numbers to the rapidly growing family-run zoo at Helensburgh have bucked regional tourism trends by growing 20 per cent per annum in recent years.
But that could now explode further as plans move forward for the arrival of more big cats and African wildlife by mid-2014.
The family is also planning to double the size of its workforce to meet the growing visitor demand and service the three new exhibits it can now build as a result of federal and state government funding in the second round of the Illawarra Region Innovation and Investment Fund.
When Federal Minister for Industry and Innovation Greg Combet, NSW Deputy Premier Andrew Stoner and BlueScope Steel general manager of steelmaking John Nowlan announced $17.2 million in funding for 25 businesses yesterday to help diversify and create sustainable jobs in the region, John and Matt Radnidge thought all their Christmases had come at once.
But the celebration only lasted minutes before they began finalising plans to spend $1.54 million on three major new exhibits and facility upgrades.
"It will allow us to introduce lions and cheetahs and probably zebras," John Radnidge said.
"We would like to introduce behind-the-scenes encounters with big cats. The interactive koala breeding sanctuary will allow us to have more koalas and introduce new bloodlines in our breeding program, which is pretty important."
Mr Radnidge believed the size of the grant recognised the standard Symbio had set in building quality, award-winning exhibits with previous funding.
"This also represents a significant investment by us as we match the funding [$770,000] dollar for dollar," he said.
"It is the biggest thing to happen in the history of the park. It is massive for a small organisation like us but I think it is recognition of the big commitment we have to saving endangered species."
The family is now trying to finalise designs before Christmas so staff can turn the first sod on each of the new exhibits early in 2013, with a view to completing them by mid-2014.
He expected many flow-on benefits for other local businesses during and after construction.
'This will allow us to grow our conservation programs and increase employment and career opportunities and develop future leaders in the industry. We have built our profile and integrity in the industry and have set a high standard and work ethic."
The funding is expected to result in 15 new jobs at Symbio.