Socotra: An Alien Landscape On Earth

On January 11, 2014 by Tim Newman

Socotra - alien landscape - Yemen - selection

Socotra (سُقُطْرَى‎ Suquṭra) is a group of four small islands off the coast of the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa. It’s technically part of Yemen but only has about 45,000 inhabitants across the four dots of land. The islands of Socotra consist of dunes, deserts, planes, beaches, mountains, caves and pretty much any other kind of terrain you could ever wish for (or dread).

Socotra - alien landscape - Yemen - Tree


socotra - tree

Socotra is a very isolated place and consequently as much as a third of the plant life (700 species) is completely unique to the archipelago. The number of endemic flora and fauna species on the island is bested only by Hawaii, New Caledonia, and the Galapagos Islands as far as numbers are concerned. Because of its impressive originality it’s often touted as the most alien looking landscape on earth. I think the pictures below confirm its position of oddity.

socotra - town

Socotra - alien landscape - Socotran Fig Tree

Socotra - alien landscape - Yemen - Tribal leader Sheikh al-Ghaddafi

The climate of Socotra is warm and pretty dry with strong winds and tides during monsoon season.


Animal Collection

socotra - juvenile socotra cormorants

One of the most striking plant species in Socotra is the dragon’s blood tree, so called because of its red sap. The umbrella-looking freak is an arresting site.

Socotra - alien landscape - Yemen - Dragon Tree

Socotra - alien landscape - Yemen - Dragons blood Tree

There are numerous bird species that live exclusively on the islands, these include the Socotra starling, the Socotra sunbird, Socotra bunting , Socotra cisticola, Socotra sparrow, Socotra golden-winged grosbeak and  the Socotra warbler. Many of these one-off species are now in serious threat of becoming extinct due to non-native feral cats who enjoy snacking on them.

Socotra - alien landscape - Yemen - eagle


socotra - Hakaria simonyi socotra - Arher Dunes

It’s similar to the tragic tale of New Zealand’s incredible selection of flightless birds. NZ had no native mammals (except one bat species) until humans came along and ruined everything with rats and cats and later on, possums. Flightless birds don’t fare well against an able moggy on the prowl.

Socotra - alien landscape - Yemen - desert

Socotra has no amphibians at all but its reptile population are 90% endemic to the islands. Here’s their chameleon:

Socotra - alien landscape - Yemen - chameleon

So there’s another beautiful place I’ll probably never get to visit. But at least I know it’s there.

Socotra - alien landscape - Yemen - beauty

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