A mountain of flesh she is, this Decima, as she lies. She summons her strength to rise, all four feet on sand and shale. Puffs twirl and settle as her toes find their place. Three on each foot. Decima stands.

In the veld of the Eastern Cape a writer imagines her: Decima – a magnifi-cent black rhinoceros cow. Mother to Tandeka, herself plumped up with calf, Decima and her crash of rhinos await the birth of the new baby. Decima still recalls how she became an orphan many seasons ago, and tension mounts with the passing of each full moon.

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Conjuring up the life of Decima is Eben. How do you write about this animal as a sentient being? He wants to find out. With the story of the rhino matri-arch and her kin, comes the various characters that impact on their lives: poachers, their clients, those who practise traditional medicine, also those whose calling it is to protect the animals. Entwined in Eben’s work on the rhino, is an account of his fragile, ageing mother. But ringing loudest in his ear, is the voice of Decima.

Eben Venter’s book, a creative blend of autofiction, animal fable, mystery and scientific enquiry, is an urgent plea to save one of earth’s megaherbivores. An elegiac work for numerous voices,  Decima  is a moving and thrilling lament to loss in all its many guises.

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