THIS is a devastating story, born of relentless, thorough investigation. Julian Rademeyer spent two years bringing to life this story of corruption, greed and selfish depravity, but also of courage, tradition and honour. It is a story of many surprises. It is, however, not altogether surprising; humans are as capable of the abject as they are the transcendent. Both are well displayed in this short, punchy book. It takes courage, however, to explore depravity to its end, and to face up to each new nadir with objectivity.

For the rhino and those who would save it, this is an uncomfortable read. It offers little hope. South Africa may be home to more than 80% of the world’s rhinos, and veteran conservationist Ian Player may have brought the white rhino back from the brink of extinction, but things have changed since the 1960s and 1970s, when Player began his rescue. Also, South Africa’s luck is largely its geographical location at the bottom of Africa. Poachers, having all but eliminated the rhinos to the north, are training their sights on South Africa’s herd.

Rhino poaching’s huge escalation in South Africa has its roots in traditional Far Eastern medicine, in the region’s growing affluence and in a culture apparently premised on tradition, patronage and the outward display of power and connection. It has its branches in Africa’s poverty. Rademeyer has depicted this eloquently.

This is a valuable addition to the small library that has emerged since poaching in South Africa escalated from about 2008.

They are all here, the smugglers, the conservationists, the hedonists, the self-sacrificing. They are exposed by a seasoned investigative journalist with a neat turn of phrase. Rademeyer’s style is pacey and sometimes wry, his curiosity is insatiable and his courage is palpable. Of all the books and articles I have read on this subject, this is the best. It is not easy reading, but for those interested in what is happening to the rhino and why, this is an essential read that may become a reference book for some.

The South African rhino’s demise has been long coming and Rademeyer plots its roots to the apartheid-era South African Defence Force, through a panoply that includes Nazis, the Mafia, Mossad, the Broederbond, Jackie Selebi and even — albeit glancingly — Julius Malema. It is a riotous ride.

Their story is told along with that of those who, at great personal sacrifice, are working to keep poachers and their bosses at bay. From Benoni to the Laos capital, Vientiane, Rademeyer tracks down the good, the bad and the nasty — although he missed one crucial interview (not for want of trying) that would have brought this heart-wrenching story to an absolute pinnacle.

It is no wonder Rademeyer has won several awards. He should win one for this.