The unique flora and fauna of Socotra island, Yemen


From the New York Times in the USA:

The Wonder Land of Socotra, Yemen

… Until that moment I’d had no clear idea what exactly frankincense was; nor that it derives from the sap of a tree; nor that, as Ahmed explained, Socotra is home to nine species of the tree, all unique to the island. …

Some 250 million years or more ago, when all the planet’s major landmasses were joined and most major life-forms were just a gleam in some evolutionary eye, Socotra already stood as an island apart.

According to Wikipedia, Socotra detached ca 6 million years ago.

Ever since, it has been gathering birds, seeds and insects off the winds and cultivating one of the world’s most unusual collections of organisms.

In addition to frankincense, Socotra is home to myrrh trees and several rare birds.

Its marine life is a unique hybrid of species from the Red Sea, the Indian Ocean and the western Pacific.

In the 1990s, a team of United Nations biologists conducted a survey of the archipelago’s flora and fauna.

They counted nearly 700 endemic species, found nowhere else on earth; only Hawaii and the Galapagos Islands have more impressive numbers. …

Encouraged by a United Nations development plan, Socotra has opted to avoid mass tourism: no beachfront resorts; instead, small, locally owned hotels and beachfront campsites.

The prize is that rarest of tourists, eco-tourists: those who know the little known and reach the hard to reach, who will come eager to see the Socotra warbler, the loggerhead turtle, the dragon’s blood tree — anything, please, but their own reflection.

6 thoughts on “The unique flora and fauna of Socotra island, Yemen

  1. Yemen Times, From 2 July 2007 to 4 July 2007

    The other side of Socotra: Archeological discoveries

    Nisreen Shadad

    Yemen possesses a coastal line extending from the Red Sea to the Arabian Sea that stretches along more than 2500km. This littoral extension has made Yemen possess a large number of islands scattered along the two Red and Arabian Seas. The number of Yemeni islands in these regions amounts to 182 islands, the most important of which is the Island of Socotra. Other Yemeni islands are scattered in three main sectors, namely, the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea.

    Tourists and Yemenis alike agree that Socotra Island has an enchanting nature, and a climate and environment that composed a life homogenous with its inhabitants. Yet, very little has been mentioned about the history and the archaeological features.

    Excavation and exploration missions in Socatra have been on going for quite sometime in order to unveil the secrets of this enchanting island. Yemeni archeologist Ahmed Billah, who is researcher working in Socotra, is concerned that the ancient features must be protected from the adventures of man.

    “I recommended in my last report on the island practical solutions to overcome the dangers threatening the ancient landmarks in Socotra. People are using flagstones and ancient rocks in building the houses. Add to that, the ancient areas are facing a partially as well as entirely destruction as a result of building roads,” he said.

    Billah and his fellow archeologist Sami al-Mandi carried out a field study in Socatra between March and April this year. The archeologists explored caves, ancient tombs, and other old places in the island. They documented their research in order to for it to be used as a reference by the General organization for Antiques or any other concerned authority.

    “We took photos of all the features as well as we documented their types, location and their sizes. These monuments need more attention,” said Billah.

    New discoveries of ancient mysteries

    The field study revealed the existence of numerous landmarks related to the ancient settlement and its customs, particularly regarding burying
    The grave after removing the flagstone.
    the dead.

    The archeologists found out that ancient Soctraians buried their dead on the top of mountains in places. Through interpreting the architecture of the cemeteries and graves they discovered that graves must be dug where water was available, whether running or stagnated.

    Many ancient graves were found in Alha and Kadha towns south east Hadibu; the capital of Socotra.

    Arisha, on the other hand is another town south west Hadibu and which is rich with rock carving. The carvings include human and animal footprints, as well as numerous letters and symbols.

    Professor Mutaher El-Iryani, a well knownYemeni historian said these type of writing is called Thamudia; Thamud was an early Arabian tribe which was mentioned in the Qur’an. Thamud were punished for rejecting God’s call through his messenger Saleh.

    Today, archaeological and historical excavations shed light on mysteries of the past. Billah said that now we know more about this tribe and their story.

    The old settlement was concentrated near the coasts, contrary to where they buried their dead. “These preliminary scientific outcomes are still hypothetical. The settlement in Socotra was during the Sheba, Hadhramout, Qataban and Hemyar kingdoms times which can date back to 2500 B. C.; Yemen was occupied and inhabited by numerous remarkable civilizations; by two countries (Awsan and Qataban). Qataban lies to east of Aden and west of Hadramout. It also became a powerful country four hundred years B.C. In the first century BC, it reaches its glorious peak. Fifty years BC, it started to produce gold as a currency, Hadhramout state which settled at the valley known with the same name. Then it expanded toward Almahara coast. Maeen state that lasted from 50 years B.C. to 115 years B .D, Sheba state lasted from the 9th century B.C. to 115 years B.C. it expanded to include most of the south of Arabian Peninsula and Hemyar state that has been completely gone with
    Thamudia scribbling on the rocks dating back to the first century B. C.
    the falling of Mareb Dam in the middle of the 6th century A.C.” Billah elaborated.

    He added that the discoveries indicated a direct relation to a trade route from China, India and the African horn. Moreover, Socotra was one of the main places to producing gums.

    In a previous study done in 2006, Billah participated in a Russian archeological expedition. The general program of this expedition restricted in a study of the Socotrain language and documenting the ancient features using several tools. The Russian expedition contained four specialists and the Yemeni team consists of two members; Ahmed Billah was one of them.

    When excavating two rectangular shaped tombs in Kizra village, archaeologists found human remains and pieces of pottery.

    The tombs were designed with a big flagstone covering the top of the grave and surrounded by two lines of different size rocks.

    In Hijrin village, another grave was found. It had five flagstones covering the grave instead of one. When exploring it, the team found its roof consists of five flagstones; one of them missed and remained four,

    “We discovered in this grave, two skeletons; one is for an adult and the other for a child, we also found earth-ware pieces,” Billah explained.

    Socotra is the largest Yemeni island located in the Arabian Sea overwhelmed with most peculiar and scarcest species of plants and birds known and unknown. Presently Socotra is one of the world’s preservations for rare plants.

    According to, an official website of the Yemeni People Congress Party, ancient people gave the island many names such as the ‘island of frankincense’, ‘the island of gum”, and “the island of blood of the two brothers’. Among the names that bear a social characteristic is that of the ‘island abode of bliss’ which is traced to the Sanskrit dvipa-sakhadara’ and the ‘island of the pearl’.

    The history, as we know it

    Historical references indicate that since the beginning of the first millennium AD, Socotra island represented one of the significant centers for production of goods used in religions worshipping rites of the ancient world. Those goods were called the sacred goods. It was a prevaili
    Ahmed Billah
    ng belief that the land producing sacred goods then was a land blessed by the gods. Therefore, such lands were much mentioned in books written by ancient geographic travelers.

    According to the wikipedia the Internet encyclopedia, The local tradition holds that the inhabitants were converted to Christianity by Thomas in AD 52. In the 10th century the Arab geographer Abu Mohammed Al-Hassan Al-Hamdani stated that in his time most of the inhabitants were Christians. Socotra is also mentioned briefly in The Travels of Marco Polo according to which “the inhabitants are baptized Christians and have an archbishop” who, it is further explained, “has nothing to do with the Pope at Rome, but is subject to an archbishop who lives at Baghdad”. In 1507, Portugal landed an occupying force at the then capital of Suq, to “liberate” the assumed friendly Christians from Arab Islamic rule. However they were not welcomed as enthusiastically as they expected and abandoned the island four years later.

    The islands passed under the control of the Mahra sultans in 1511. Later in 1886 it became a British protectorate, along with the remainder of the Mahra State of Qishn and Socotra. For the British it was an important strategic stop-over. The P&O ship Aden sank after being wrecked on a reef near Socotra, in 1897, with the loss of 78 lives.

    In October 1967 the Mahra sultanate was abolished. November 30th Socotra became part of the People’s Republic of South Yemen (later to become the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen). Today it is part of the Republic of Yemen.


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