COLUMBUS, Ohio (WTVN) -- The Columbus Zoo's new "Heart of Africa" exhibit is officially open.

Thousands joined TV star Betty White and the zoo's Jack Hanna for the ribbon cutting Thursday morning.

"I was here in 1979 and it was beautiful and it was small, but look what it's grown in to," White said of the Columbus Zoo.

She urged those in the crowd not to take the zoo for granted, calling it one of the greatest in the world.

"What we learn about animals in the zoo, they're the ambassadors for the wild communities that almost any species you mention is shrinking," she said.

Hanna said that White got a chance to see the exhibit on Wednesday. She sat alone for about 15 minutes just watching the animals on what resembles an African plain. He told how White always said she wanted to go to Africa with him, but after seeing the new exhibit she said that wouldn't be necessary any more.

"Does that tell you what this is like everyone?"

The experience you get at the "Heart of Africa" is one Hanna hopes to add when the zoo makes other expansions and updates in the future. He joked that he'd be watching from the "continent up there" pointing toward Heaven by the time his full vision was fully implemented.

"We want to bring you Africa. We want to bring you the North Pole. We want to bring you South America, Australia. We're going to bring you every continent in the world in the future," he said.

The opening drew a large crowd not only from central Ohio, but around the country as well. Vicki Gourley flew up from Oklahoma City with some of her friends to see the new exhibit.

"It's just like being on safari. It's the best African exhibit I have ever seen in any zoo, bar none," she said.

She met Hanna when he spoke at a fund raiser in Oklahoma City. He brought along a cheetah, which is now a part of the exhibit.

"We thought we'd come see him too," joked her friend, Carol Sander, who also made the trip.

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