Chronicle: Brooke Shields recalls her ‘amazing’ month as a high school intern at the San Diego Zoo


Shifts that start at dawn? No problem. Lots of repetitive tasks? Not a solution. Long hours meeting the needs of unpredictable personalities? All in one working day.

When 17-year-old Dwight-Englewood School senior Brooke Shields showed up for her internship at the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Wildlife Park in May 1983, the model and actress was surprisingly well-prepared for a month of non-glamor. the life.

Her many years in the Hollywood jungle had trained her well.

“What people don’t see and really grasp is how difficult filmmaking and modeling and all that can be. Sometimes you’re in remote places. You work 12 to 14 hours a day. Since I was young, you were approved if you worked hard, and that’s something I’ve always coveted,” Shields said in a recent phone interview.

“The reputation of (the zoo) was that there was this huge system in place. You had to document everything, and I loved that. I loved holding logs and cutting fruits and vegetables into little squares. There was something very zen in hard work.

Nearly 40 years later, Shields was back at the zoo to celebrate the grand opening last week of Denny Sanford Wildlife Explorers Basecamp, the new 3.2-acre child-friendly wonderland built on the site of the old zoo. for children.

Shields walked the red carpet, dated Olympic snowboarder (and fellow animal fan) Shaun White, and posed for photos with an umbrella cockatoo and a sloth. But in 1983, Shields spent a glorious month roaming the concrete paths of the zoo and the vast plains of the Wild Animal Park, where the teenage star of ‘The Blue Lagoon’, ‘Endless Love’ and an iconic Calvin Klein advert were just another human on poop patrol.

Shields’ relationship with the San Diego Zoo began with her appearance on “Animal Express,” a syndicated television show featuring longtime Zoological Society of San Diego spokesperson Joan Embery. After the filming, the zoo’s former public relations officer, Georgeanne Irvine, gave a behind-the-scenes tour of Shields, and the young actress fell in love with the place.

So when it came time for New Jersey high schooler Brooke Shields to choose a place to do her required internship, she knew exactly where she wanted to go and what she wanted to do.

“She was such a hard worker. She arrived at 6am and she did everything that was asked of her. And she had a real affinity for animals. She wasn’t nervous around them and the animals weren’t scared of her,” said Irvine, now the publishing director of the San Diego Wildlife Alliance.

“Even though she was a famous actress and a famous model, she was very interested in wildlife, conservation and animals. She proved herself time and time again and everyone fell in love with her.

Brooke Shields during her high school internship at the San Diego Zoo. She completed a month-long internship at the San Diego Zoo and Wildlife Park in 1983.

(San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance)

Neither the zoo nor the Wild Animal Park (now the San Diego Zoo Safari Park) had formal high school internship programs, so Shields ended up doing everything from cleaning the enclosures to helping out at the animal nursery. And because zoos and other wildlife organizations were much more active in caring for animals than they are now, Shields was able to interact with some memorable animals in ways she will never forget.

There was the golden baby monkey that Shields carried in a pouch strapped to his chest. There was the time she went into the field with a Wild Animal Park vet to look for a mother ibex who was having medical difficulties after giving birth.

And then there was Viktor, the young bonobo who also couldn’t forget Shields.

“We had this amazing relationship. He had such a good sense of humor. He would see me and raise his arms so I could tickle him,” Shields said. “He got so attached to me that when I went back three or four years later, he recognized me. He literally started screaming when he saw me. I was so shocked. It was amazing.”

Shields turned 18 on May 31, 1983, and her friends at the zoo celebrated by throwing a surprise party on the “Animal Chit-Chat” show at the Wegeforth Bowl. The crowd sang “Happy Birthday” to the famous young woman who had graced the cover of Time magazine and now shared the stage with a llama and reptiles.

But for Shields, the best gift was the month she spent being a hardworking member of the San Diego Zoo family. Poo scoop and all.

“When you have responsibility for the well-being of something, you have to step out of yourself. I was in an industry where it was all about me. It’s a very self-centered and self-centered place. It was such a relief for me not to be in the spotlight,” said Shields, who returned to the zoo in 1997 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the first children’s zoo.

“They treated me like another zookeeper. They were very welcoming. There were tears when I left, on both sides. It was such an oasis of a time.”

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