BIRDWATCHING

The diversity

Many of those who been to Socotra Island would describe it as like nowhere else on Earth, its dramatic landscapes and bizarrely shaped trees bring to mind an alien wonderland. The island has been isolated from the mainland for millions of years. This long geological separation has allowed the islands’ wildlife to evolve in unique ways, and over a third of its plant life is endemic, including its peculiar-looking Dragon’s blood tree Dracaena cinnabari, the crimson sap of which has been used for centuries for local medicines and dyes, and even as lipstick.

The ecosystem

Socotra is home to 192 bird species, 253 species of coral, 730 species of coastal fish, and 300 species of crab and lobster, Socotra’s unique ecosystems are one of the jewels in the crown of Arabia’s biodiversity, says Richard Porter, from BirdLife International, who has made multiple ornithological research trips to the archipelago over the last 25 years. Socotra holds eleven endemic bird species, such as the Socotra Buzzard Buteo socotraensis (Vulnerable), Socotra Starling Onychognathus frater, and Golden-winged Grosbeak Rhynchostruthus socotranus – Yemen’s National bird.

The present

Until recently, this unique flora and fauna had remained relatively well-preserved thanks to its long isolation and the strong traditional relationship between the local people and their environment. For example, in contrast to the declining global population of the Egyptian Vulture Neophron percnopterus (Endangered), the Socotran population of 800 pairs has been able to thrive, given the harmonious relationship between people and the birds that sees residents practice traditional agricultural techniques and provide a steady supply of vulture food by throwing out carcasses. As such, Socotra is a symbol of hope for the conservation of this Endangered species, and it can be seen throughout, breeding on its limestone cliffs and escarpments.

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