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Several years ago we were on holiday in Plettenberg Bay, when one evening my wife found a young penguin that had been washed up to shore. The little fellow was exhausted and in shock. Our dinner plans were postponed, but to summarise, penguin volunteers were called (I prefer to view them as “penguin experts”), and the precious chap was saved. In fact we have rehabilitated and released many birds ourselves over the years including injured birds and abandoned chicks. None have given me greater pleasure than the Cape White-eyes, who regularly come back for the first 2 or 3 weeks after release (probably for supplementary food), and almost seem to say “thank you”.

There are plenty of white-eyes about; we certainly are not protecting the gene pool, and it must occur to people to question why so many caring enthusiasts take the trouble to look after these birds. Yes, we love them, but it is so gratifying in ways that are difficult to explain. But perhaps I do have an example!

Anna Netrebko went to the St Petersburg Conservatory to try to get accepted as a singer. They were lukewarm, and she was grudgingly accepted for chorus roles. She took a job as a cleaning woman at the Ballet Theatre, and was then fortuitously spotted by a director, who had previously seen her audition – he offered her a role, and the rest (as they say) is history. She became the premier coloratura of the early 21st century. It is a great story. It is a true story. It is also a very sad story, because one has to imagine that there were 99 other janitors who did not get a break.

So what does love have to do with it? (Since one of the themes is music, I may as well quote Tina Turner – I have listened to her with great fondness since hearing “Nutbush City Limits” on LM-Radio all those years ago). Sadly, it is not self-effacing love. It is true that we receive immense pleasure from supporting these creatures, and that is what drives us to act. Yet it is love. I believe it is much easier (and still important!) to simply open a wallet, and donate to the institutions who rehabilitate. It is much harder, much better, and much more rewarding to volunteer, and sacrifice your valuable time. That sacrifice is love.

So an exhortation to support these worthy causes and save the little ones that would otherwise be lost. If you are somewhere near the Garden Route, it could be useful to join the Nature’s Valley Trust when they release penguins to the sea. That will move you.

Perhaps you should also watch a Youtube video of Anna Netrebko singing Casta Diva. That will move you too. Contemplate what we would have lost if she slipped through the "system".

A final note when reconsidering the case of Anna Netrebko. The ones with the most fetching feathers tend to get saved first. Which just goes to show that there is more than one kind of love. (Apology to Joan Armatrading).

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