Overlooking the "Elephants of Asia" exhibit at the Los Angeles Zoo, the new $2.5 million Tom Mankiewicz Conservation Carousel is like no other carousel in the world. Consisting of 66 hand-carved and hand-painted wooden animals and a mural depicting these animals in "unsuspected settings" full of images of local flora and familiar locales like Malibu and Hollywood, this unusual take on the classic carnival ride is uniquely Californian.
If you were looking to ride a prancing horse with a fancy bridle, you won't find it here. Instead, you may choose from a variety of endangered animals, many of which are zoo residents, as well as some common native creatures such as the skunk, a frequent night visitor to the zoo grounds. While there are a handful of specialty horses, such as the pink ribboned "princess pony", you are forced to make the harrowing decision of choosing between a komodo dragon or a silverback gorilla, poison dart frog or a honey bee, double-wattled cassowary or peninsular pronghorn. If riding these bobbing peculiarities in a circle is a little rich for your blood and you're the chariot type, you can nestle between the dung beetles, keeping your feet on the ground.
The major donors behind this new attraction – named after Tom Mankiewicz, a screenwriter and former Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association chairman – are A&M Records cofounder Jerry Moss and his wife Ann Moss, who added their own special touch to the carousel. Instead of calliope music, they created a soundtrack including tracks by the Go-Go's, the Police, Captain & Tennille, and other artists from the A&M catalogue. Ann Moss also had a hand in designing the animals, insisting that they all had friendly, welcoming faces, including the mystical unicorn to remind us that imagination is also in desperate need of some conservation efforts.