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Welcome to Socotra, an island out of this world


Kevan Karanjia
Staff Writer

Monday, October 28, 2013, 3:49 PM - After seeing some of the pictures below, you'd never believe that this tiny island nestled in the Indian Ocean contains some of the oddest looking flora and fauna in the world.

It can be found approximately 250 kilometres away from Somalia and 340 kilometres from Yemen. 

It's small, and largely insignificant in the grand schemes of globalization and internet technology - which seem to dominate headlines in an age where hidden gems are of a bygone era, when exploration still mattered. 

Four islands make up the archipelago of Socotra, where for 7 million years they've remained physically separated from the continent of Africa and free to thrive on their own. 

The unique dragon's blood tree has a red-coloured resin used for medicines and dyes (Photo courtesy Gerry & Bonni - Flickr)

The unique dragon's blood tree has a red-coloured resin used for medicines and dyes (Photo courtesy Gerry & Bonni - Flickr)

The landscape of Socotra is unlike any other. Home to over 800 species of flora and fauna - a third of them can be found nowhere else on Earth. 

The largest island of the same name, makes up 95 per cent of the archipelago's landmass.

Looking at the terrain you'd think it's from a cheap sci-fi move set but in fact, it's a product of a very hot and dry climate.

Through the process of speciation - the evolutionary process by which new biological species arise - the island's plant life has evolved to survive these harsh conditions and blossom.

Some species are believed to be over 20 million-years old. 

Surveys by the Centre for Middle Eastern Plants found that 307 of 825 total plant species could only be found on Socotra.

Only Hawaii, New Caledonia and the Galapagos Islands have more local species.

The Socotra desert rose stores water in its trunk to survive (Photo courtesy of Gerry & Bonni - Flickr)

The Socotra desert rose stores water in its trunk to survive (Photo courtesy of Gerry & Bonni - Flickr)

It's not just the plants that make Socotra so unique, so alien to the rest of the world. 

Rare birds are a common feature - of the 140 species that exist on the island, 10 are endemic to Socotra. Species include the Socotra Sparrow, Cisticola, and Golden-winged Grosbeak.

There are no native amphibians on Socotra but reptiles are common, many of which are endemic to the land.

Over 90 per cent of the reptile species found on Socotra are indigenous and they include legless lizards and the Socotran Chameleon. 

Mammals are rare on the island, only bats are native.

The Socotra Cormorant only breeds on the island and migrates as far west as the Red Sea coast (Photo courtesy Nepenthes)

The Socotra Cormorant only breeds on the island and migrates as far west as the Red Sea coast (Photo courtesy Nepenthes)

Socotra has a climate perfect for a beach getaway, but it doesn't have the infrastructure nor desire to become one.

The average temperatures falls around 25 degrees Celsius but summer highs can reach well above 35.

Yearly rainfall is low, with average precipitation just over 200 millimeters a year. 

The main island consists of three vastly different terrains: narrow coastal plains, limestone caves, and the Haghier Mountains.

The landscape of Socotra was once even more diverse than today, but over two-thousand years of human settlement and the introduction of foreign species has slightly changed the environment.

The Hawk cave found in Socotra can be up to 1000 metres deep (Photo courtesy Email4mobile)

The Hawk cave found in Socotra can be up to 1000 metres deep (Photo courtesy Email4mobile)

Travel is very uncommon to the main island, which has a population of over 40,000 inhabitants. 

It is officially part of Yemen but maintains its own distinct culture, closely related with groups of the southern Arabian Peninsula.

Flights to the island are sparse and driving while there is uncommon. Only two-years ago did Socotra construct its first roads.   

The island was given UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) world natural heritage status in 2008.

The status provides funds and assistance for its preservation and ensures the environment is not exploited by human activity.   

Map courtesy of World Fact Book

Map courtesy of World Fact Book

Map courtesy of UN

Map courtesy of UN

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