The penguin stood forlornly in the shallow surf and stared at the water washing rhythmically over his feet.
“So this is it,” he thought to himself.
His short life would come to an end on this beach.
He turned around, barely able to keep his balance, and looked at Robben Island dipping below the waves on the horizon.
His parents left him to fend for himself too early.
Behind him people started gathering in numbers, perhaps to join in the funeral march of a penguin.
For a moment his heart beat faster and the urge to flee gripped him.
He of course didn’t know that he was standing on the shore of Melkbosstrand and that someone would soon rescue him from certain death.
Regardless, he is a penguin, and during the brief period his parents looked after him they explicitly told him to be wary of humans.
The fledgling, who has been christened Happy Feet by one of the onlookers and local community police forum chairman John Taylor, was just hours away from dying of starvation.
Happy Feet will one day tell his children about the time when Melkbosstrand Private School teacher Liezl Bestbier lovingly took him from Melkbosstrand to Table View’s Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (Sanccob).
But late on Saturday afternoon, he was scared.
About 10 people were looking at him trapped between the beach and the wide ocean.
“How did it come to this? Dad? Mom? Where are you?” whimpered the penguin.
And then, during his darkest moment, he saw someone jogging towards the group of uncertain onlookers.
The self-assured woman, who would temporarily become like a mother to him, talked briefly to the onlookers and then slowly moved towards Happy Feet.
She had a welcoming look in her warm eyes.
Bestbier held out her hand, picked up Happy Feet and then tenderly wrapped him in a towel.
Days later, Bestbier told TygerBurger she has rescued birds before, but never a penguin.
“I knew that if a penguin stands there and just looks and blinks at you then there is no fight left in it,” says Bestbier.
“The people there said they phoned Sanccob, but that there was doubt whether the organisation could come and collect the penguin, so I decided to take him there myself.”
Happy Feet was then carried to Bestbier’s house, every now and again peeking at the busy world through the towel.
He saw others staring curiously at Bestbier and him and then before he knew it he was placed in a box and put in a bigger box.
He might later have deduced that the bigger box was a car. Then again, maybe penguins are lucky enough not to complicate their lives with deductive logic.
The drive to Sanccob was quite awkward for a bird notorious for awkwardness.
During the trip the penguin’s name might just as well have been Flappy Feet.
Once the two arrived in Table View he was immediately taken in, weighed, and thoroughly embraced.
“He weighed just one kilogram, which is much lighter than a bird his age should weigh,” says Bestbier.
“I was told by Sanccob that the chick season and the moulting season of the parents are overlapping now because of global warming and human interference. The adults fatten themselves up, but then there’s nobody looking out for the chicks.”
Going to sea is then the most hazardous time of a fledgling’s life and only about half of them who go out for the first time ever return home.
Sanccob’s development and marketing coordinator, Francois Louw, says it is quite common during chick season for them to come to the rescue of starving and dehydrated penguins.
He continues: “The penguin was very undernourished, but he was very strong nonetheless. We suspect he was abandoned by his parents. During this three week process when the parents replace their plumage with a brand new set of waterproof feathers, they are unable to hunt for fish and feed their young. The chicks that are not yet ready to fledge are abandoned and face starvation.”
Happy Feet will show the world that he can survive without the help of his parents.
He will take to the sea as if his oyster, completely reinvigorated by the caring Bestbier and Sanccob.
One day he will have chicks of his own and he will tell them of the wide world out there and about his brush with death.
There are people out there who can be trusted, he will tell them, and then when they are big enough to feed themselves, he will leave.
Right now, he is sure he will keep an eye on them from a distance.
Happy Feet’s chicks will never be completely alone.
“A week from now, perhaps even a few years, I will think of the penguin I saved,” says Bestbier.
“I hope I made a difference.”