Family, mentors drive zookeeper’s success, passion
As Cebu City’s zookeeper for nearly five years, Giovanni Stephen Romarate has received awards for every year he’s been on the job.
He said he does his job well because of his love for animals, something he shares with his wife, Cristina, and five children.
“Even my children help as guides for zoo visitors. They give short lectures about the animals on display,” Romarate told Cebu Daily News.
Romarate was awarded outstanding section head in last Thursday night’s City Charter Day recognition of outstanding City Hall employees.
He received a plaque of recognition and cash prize of P30,000.
“It’s a good feeling if you’re rewarded,” he said.
Romarate’s passion for animals came from his father, Victor, a veteran of the US Armed Forces of the Far East, and his godfather Ferdinand Brima.
Both men are former hunters who eventually cared for wildlife. As an only son, Romarate would often tag along with his father in his visits to the zoo.
The elder Romarate was friends with Eleuterio Tropa, the long-haired, barefoot founder of the Lamplighters Foundation, who ran a zoo in Zamboangita, Negros Oriental. Tropa moved to Cebu where he also opened a zoo in Talisay City, which was transferred to Fort San Pedro. In the 1970s, the city zoo was opened in its present location in barangay Kalunasan, where Tropa managed it until his death in 1993.
Though employed with private companies then, Romarate said he would volunteer as utility worker for the city during his free time.
“I was paid well for my job but the zoo is my passion. I loved the work there,” he said.
Romarate said he cared for the zoo’s wildlife like a Bengal tiger, hawks, a snake weighing 38 kilos and a white rat in his backyard in sitio Cantipla in the mountain barangay of Tabunan.
He later brought his tiger “Bogart,” which was given to him by a friend to the city zoo as an added attraction.
Romarate said his family’s shared passion for zoo animals extends to their adopted nicknames.
His wife Cristina is called the Mother Hen while his 19-year-old daughter Hanskish is called Manang Horse.
His 14-year-old girl Stephan Khrisha is called Manang Monkey and 13-year-old Maria Hebianca calls herself Manang Meerkat.
The youngest, 8-year-old Maria Kiara, is called Lioness, and Emmanuel is Uwak, which means “crow.”
“My children love animals. While the others go to school, some stay behind to feed the animals. After arriving from school, they would feed them,” he said.
Romarate said his children also join him in exploring the mountains of Cebu City to visit caves and underground creeks on weekends and holidays.
Romarate also stays in touch with former teachers at the Cebu Technological University (CTU) Barili campus who provide him counsel on animal care and zoo management even after he finished animal science degree in 1985.
“I’m really lucky and maybe it’s because of my passion for animals,” Romarate said. / Doris C. Bongcac, Chief of Reporters