People who love the Los Angeles Zoo get excited about any new animal — be it tiger cub, former circus elephant or Komodo dragon hatchling.
So imagine the thrill of 66 new arrivals at one time, among them a Channel Island fox, a baby rhinoceros, a lioness, three racehorses and … a unicorn.
All the animals, including the mythical one, have found a home in the zoo's newest habitat — the Tom Mankiewicz Conservation Carousel, which will open to the public Oct. 27.
The hope is that the colorful new attraction will be a big draw and — at $3 for a three-minute ride — generate cash for the zoo for years to come.
"The carousel is a great way to create a joyous experience for families and also provide a source of much-needed income for the zoo," said Connie Morgan, president of the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Assn., the nonprofit that raises money for zoo programs.
It also has an environmental message — which is one of a number of ways it will set itself apart from the beloved 68-horse Griffith Park Merry-Go-Round nearby.
The new carousel's main focus is on endangered animals. So, while it does include a few horses and a hodgepodge of other familiar creatures, kids also will be able to ride on a Sumatran tiger, a mountain tapir, a silverback gorilla and a honeybee.
While they are riding, they will look out at hand-painted decorations, celebrating all manner of California flora and fauna.
And they'll be listening to music that is a far cry from the traditional waltzes, marches and polkas.
The project's major donors are Ann and Jerry Moss. Jerry Moss was the M in A&M Records, which he founded with Herb Alpert, the A. Moss came up with the carousel's playlist — which draws from the A&M catalog — Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass, Janet Jackson, the Carpenters, the Police, Captain & Tennille, Cat Stevens and more.
Ann Moss added her own touches — insisting that all the animals' faces be friendly and welcoming and that any proper carousel ought to have a princess pony, pink and beribboned, "to celebrate the feminine."
It was her idea, too, to include a unicorn, which fit the theme, she said, since in these overloaded days, imagination is becoming endangered.
"I just think it's so important to keep imagination alive because that's how we get places, by dreaming things up first," she said.
The Mosses, who own Thoroughbreds, had their racehorses Zenyatta, Giacomo and Tiago reproduced by the carousel's maker, Carousel Works.
The Fort Wayne Children's Zoo in Indiana asked the company, based in Mansfield, Ohio, to create the first conservation carousel in 2004. A number of zoos across the country have followed suit. For the L.A. Zoo's carousel, its artisans hand-carved and hand-painted each animal and added unique decorative details, including a central mural that features endangered animals from all over gathered in recognizably Californian landscapes. People from all over the world come to California, said Morgan, so why not animals too?
The project cost about $2.5 million, some of which is being raised by soliciting sponsors for each of the animals. For $25,000, donors get their names on bronze plaques for 15 years as well as 25 free rides a year.
Most of the animals have been sponsored, but some are still up for grabs. One is a skunk — which is, of course, the opposite of endangered, especially here. It was included in the mix for fun, as a sort of private joke, because so many skunks make their home at the zoo, happily living as freeloaders.
The carousel is on a hill overlooking Elephants of Asia and a reptile area called Living Amphibians, Invertebrates and Reptiles, or LAIR, which is scheduled to open early next year.
Mankiewicz, the carousel's namesake, was one of the zoo's most devoted champions. A screenwriter and script doctor, he served as the chairman of the zoo association's board of trustees from 2002 until his death from cancer in 2010.
It was Mankiewicz, a close friend of the Mosses, who first suggested the carousel and asked the couple to help make it happen, they said.
"Tom had a way, and we kind of got caught up in it," said Jerry Moss. "We were so touched by him, and when he left us, we just thought it was the right thing to do to name it after him."
Mankiewicz loved both people and animals, Ann Moss said. She said she hopes the carousel will help visitors feel the connection between all of the world's living beings.
"I want them to feel a kinship, that we are in it together," she said.