Hawf deciduous cloud forest

Year of compilation: 2014

Site description
The south-west monsoon brings mist and rain to the slopes in late summer when the mostly deciduous vegetation springs into leaf and the otherwise poor herb layer is transformed. The tree cover comprises mostly Anogeissus dhofarica/Commiphora habessinica woodland with abundant Adenium obesum and, in places, Acacia senegalensis. These unique woodlands hold 500 species of plants, with 30 endemic species and two endemic genera.

Key biodiversity
Other wildlife: 12 species of reptiles including the endemic Chamaeleo arabicus, Hemidactylus yerburii and Coluber thomasi. The sea-turtle Chelonia mydas (globally Endangered) nests on the beaches. Mammals include Indian Crested Porcupine, Honey Badger (regionally Near Threatened), Arabian Wolf (regionally Endangered), Striped Hyena (regionally Endangered), Arabian Caracal, Arabian Leopard (regionally Critically Endangered) and Nubian Ibex.

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
In spite of the important role it has played in helping preserve the mountains forests since times immemorial, the “mahjeem” system has gradually been falling into disuse over the past decade. Also tribal law, which acknowledges the importance of trees for the population’s sustenance, loses importance amongst the new generations as economic and social changes occur. From the nature conservation view point, the following are the most pressing problems faced in the area. Uncontrolled tree felling (especially of Anogeissus dhofarica specimens but also Cadia purpurea, Ziziphus spina-christi, Commiphora and Acacia species) for timber. Ineffective regeneration of original forest cover due to the presence of livestock (over 50% of the protected area’s surface is heavily or very heavily grazed). Inefficiencies of the agro-pastoral land use system: (i) the intensification of livestock husbandry (disuse of traditional rangeland management system, larger herd numbers, increased dependence on external inputs and little monetary and non-monetary gains related to this activity); (ii) the abandonment of agricultural activities and the increasing dependence on imported staple foods. Other concerns as perceived by people include: Water scarcity, bad water administration capacity and deficient infrastructure. Lack of waste disposal facilities (e.g. land fill), large generation of waste and Littering; poor access to educational and health services and the state of roads during the rainy season. Threats: The main threats to birds/wildlife at Hawf are anthropogenic: hunting and habitat destruction. We have direct evidence of Nubian Ibex and Rock Hyrax's being hunted there and I think it safe to assume that partridges and doves are hunted for food. Habitat destruction and overgrazing are not too bad in the protected area, but since it isn't really protected and the human population continues to grow and exploit the forest, it is likely to get worse. Also, though I haven't got any evidence for this, I suspect that avian bycatch is a problem caused by the fishing which is generally done with nets. Most of the fishing is for sardines so the nets are actively handled rather than left overnight, but I imagine that terns and gulls get caught. A friend reported dozens of Socotra cormorants drowning in a net in Aden a few years ago but I don't know of this happening in Hawf.

Conservation responses/actions for key biodiversity
A joint venture by the GEF and the Hawf Association for Rural Development and the Hawf Women Association look to address the water and waste problems, respectively. The Women Association has shown interest to undertake projects to address the problem of deforestation and an initial step taken by them has been the attempt to start a tree nursery. However, due to the lack of both financial means and management capacities the project has ceased to exist.

Habitat and land use
In Hawf, the traditional rangeland management system “mahjeem” has played an important role in protecting natural vegetation in intensively cultivated and grazed areas. In the past this system determined the spatio-temporal grazing patterns for ruminants in the area. Throughout the three months of the rainy season (mid-June to mid-September) goats and camels were to be taken to the plateau whereas cattle were allowed to remain at any altitude within the mountain range throughout the entire year. The ecological explanation behind this land management system is not fully understood. Goats and camels, which browse the trees, shrubs and their seedlings, were moved from the areas where plants needs the monsoon’s moisture to allow new growth, thereby helping maintain the stability of the woodland. Goats are moved to higher altitudes because they do not like the wet conditions (they lose condition), whereas camels do not like the steep, slippery slopes (which tend to break their legs). Cows can impact heavily on the vegetation (particularly noted on the Oman side of the border), but were not moved to the upper slopes.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Hawf deciduous cloud forest. Downloaded from on 23/03/2023.