Country/Territory Yemen
Area 3,500 km2
Altitude 0 - 1500m
Priority high
Habitat loss major
Knowledge incomplete

General characteristics

Socotra is the largest and most easterly island of an archipelago-including the Brothers (Abd al Kuri, al Ikhwan and Darsa)-administered by Yemen and located in the Indian Ocean c.190 km east of the horn of Africa and 480 km off the Arabian coast. An undulating limestone plateau (at 300-700 m) extends across much of the island, being interrupted in the north-east by the Hajhir (or Hagghier) massif which reaches 1,519 m.

Since the pioneering expeditions of the 1880s, Socotra has been renowned for botanical curiosities (e.g. the endemic tree Dracaena cinnabari whose resin, 'dragon's blood', has been used for dyeing since ancient times), with 28-32% of plant species being endemic (WWF/IUCN 1994). Socotra's location subjects it to a wet-dry climatic regime, and the mountains attract sufficient precipitation for the growth of evergreen bushes and scrub. The coastal plains are vegetated with semi-desert dwarf shrubs and grasses, developing into a more diverse, deciduous shrubland on the lower mountain slopes, on the limestone plateau and on escarpments. Some places are dominated by succulent trees (such as cucumber tree Dendrosicyos socotranus, the only arborescent species in the family Cucurbitaceae). Western areas are very arid.

There have been few ornithological studies on Socotra (Porter and Martins 1996), and some areas, especially those in the west, remain unexplored (Porter and Stone 1996).

Restricted-range species

There is some evidence that different vegetation types influence the distribution of restricted-range species on the island. Cisticola haesitatus, for example, favours scrub at lower altitudes, while Onychognathus frater prefers areas with wild fruit, and Emberiza socotrana, the rarest of the endemic bird species, is apparently confined to high plateaus (Al Sagheir and Porter 1996). A further 11 subspecies are endemic to the island (Martins 1996).

Species IUCN Category
Socotra Warbler (Incana incana) LC
Socotra Cisticola (Cisticola haesitatus) LC
Socotra Starling (Onychognathus frater) LC
Socotra Sunbird (Chalcomitra balfouri) LC
(Passer insularis) NR
Socotra Bunting (Emberiza socotrana) NT

Important Bird Areas (IBAs)
IBA Code Site Name Country
Hadiboh estuaries of Hadiboh, Sheck and Sirhan (Socotra) Yemen
Limestone plateau above Siko village, Socotra Yemen
Neet, Socotra Yemen
North slopes of the Haggeher Mountains (Socotra) Yemen
Wadi Di Negehen (Socotra) Yemen
Wadi Merkoh (Socotra) Yemen
YE036 Jabal Ma'alah / Ma'alah Plateau, Socotra Yemen
YE037 Ra's Hebaq, Socotra Yemen
YE038 North coastal plain: airport to Di Selmeho / Ghubbah (Socotra) Yemen
YE040 Shidahah, Socotra Yemen
YE041 Wadi Ayhaft, Socotra Yemen
YE043 Jabal Jaaf (Socotra) Yemen
YE044 Rookib hills, Socotra Yemen
YE045 Hamaderoh plateau and scarp, Socotra Yemen
YE046 Shu'ub Coast / Coast of Bindar Di-Sha'b, Socotra Yemen
YE047 Haggeher (Socotra) Yemen
YE049 Di-Ishal foothills, Socotra Yemen
YE050 Diksam (Socotra) Yemen
YE051 Falang - Momi coast and cliffs (Socotra) Yemen
YE052 Firmihin near Jabal Keseslah, Socotra Yemen
YE053 Noged Plain, Socotra Yemen
YE055 Abd al-Kuri (Socotra) Yemen

Threat and conservation

Much of the climax vegetation on Socotra has been destroyed through overgrazing (mainly by goats and, to a lesser extent, cattle) and by the cutting of wood for timber and fuel. Because wood-cutting is largely controlled sustainably by local people, the most important factor in the survival of the remaining native habitat is the density of livestock. The sinking of new wells and the construction of cisterns to hold rainwater is extending grazing areas and seasons, but drought, disease and the lack of supplementary fodder currently constrain flock sizes. There are, however, various development plans, including the building of roads and provision of port facilities, which, if implemented, could have serious environmental consequences (Evans 1994, WWF/IUCN 1994). Oil and gas exploration may also be a threat in the future (O. Al-Saghier verbally 1996).

Three restricted-range species are judged to be threatened based upon their small populations, believed to number under 1,000 individuals. Habitat loss and degradation are the most likely causes for their rarity, although Emberiza socotrana may also be confined to slightly moister areas through competition with Cinnamon-breasted Bunting E. tahapisi which is widespread in the Afrotropical region.

Egyptian Vulture Neophron percnopterus is a common and widespread resident with a locally significant breeding population possibly exceeding 1,000 pairs, thus making Socotra the most important breeding area for the species in the Middle East (Evans 1994). Socotra Cormorant Phalacrocorax nigrogularis (a Near Threatened seabird endemic within the Arabian Gulf, Arabian Sea and Gulf of Aden) occurs in small numbers as a non-breeding visitor on all islands in the Socotran archipelago.

There are currently no protected areas on Socotra although some areas are believed to be managed for their traditional resources (e.g. for bee-keeping and grazing) and there is a proposal to declare the island a Biosphere Reserve. Evans (1994) lists 19 sites as Important Bird Areas, based upon standard criteria including the presence of threatened species, regionally threatened or declining species and concentrations in significant numbers of endemic or regional populations. A biodiversity survey of the Socotran archipelago started in 1997-a joint 3-year project run by the Environment Protection Council of Yemen, BirdLife International, the Royal Botanic Gardens of Edinburgh and the University of Aden-and will result in a detailed inventory of the birds and plants of the islands. This Darwin Initiative project will work collaboratively with a larger multidisciplinary GEF-funded conservation programme which is awaiting final approval.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Endemic Bird Areas factsheet: Socotra. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 20/03/2023.