As government approves Socotra plants as national symbolsWater & Environment Ministry allows transportation of rare plants to Saudi Arabia [Archives:2008/1151/Front Page]

May 1 2008

By: Mohammed Bin Sallam
SANA'A, April 30 ) The Yemeni Cabinet recently approved natural elements in Yemen as slogans to signify protection of plant and animal life in the country that are threatened by extinction. It also approved the 'Dragon's Blood Tree,' exclusively available on Socotra Island, as a national tree that must receive adequate protection from potential threats.

During his visit to Socotra in the company of European ambassadors to Yemen over a week ago, Minister of Water and the Environment Abdurrahman Fadhel Al-Iryani told an environmental activist that President Ali Abdullah Saleh ordered the government to give Saudi Arabian King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz a gift including more than one hundred saplings taken from the rarest tree species in the Arabian Peninsula, such as the Dragon's Blood, gum, Socotran Cucumber and Karthab trees, in order to be grown in the Royal Garden, based in the Saudi capital city of Riyadh.

Al-Iryani said to the same source that many of such plantlets, transported by a special Saudi plane, were subjected to extinction while being transported from their original environment.

Regarding the transport of non-native plant life to the island, Al-Iryani explained, “More than 15 strange tree types were discovered by Yemeni researchers on Socotra, while other tree species are still undiscovered. The General Environment Protection Authority (GEPA) worked hard to launch several field campaigns with the aim of eliminating such odd trees, believed to harm other local useful trees by consuming their water and nutrition.”

Other sources were quoted as saying that Yemeni investment agencies transported palm saplings and other plantlets from the United Arab Emirates over the past few months in exchange for transplanting some of the rarest trees on Socotra to the Gulf state, but the Socotra Airport authorities did not allow those concerned to transport the saplings via a Yemeni plane.

Socotra Island enjoys great international care due to its unique biodiversity. The clearest evidence of this is that the island's archipelago is included in the Global Network for Biosphere Protectorates, which was approved by Man And the Biosphere (MAB), affiliated with UNESCO.

Scientists and environmentalists from various countries have been interested in Socotra, with foreign delegates usually visiting the island to conduct studies on the various tree species and unique animal life.

They urge Yemeni authorities to conserve biodiversity on the island, which represents an integrated environmental system and may be harmed in event one of its elements disappears. They stressed the necessity of studying the geological history of the island and identifying its geological age, reviewing the specific historical stages which the island underwent without any external interaction.

Socotra is one of the two most important protected areas in Yemen. The first is the Utma Area of Dhamar governorate, announced as a protected area on June 5, 1999, while Socotra Island was officially announced as a protected area on September 27, 2000.

In addition, four other Yemeni areas have been nominated as protected areas in the near future: Hawf in Mahra, Bara'a in Hodeida, Sharma in Hadramout and Belhaf in Shabwa.

Despite the biodiversity enjoyed by some Yemeni districts announced or nominated to be announced as protected areas, the Socotra Archipelago, made up of four islands and other uninhabitable rock outcrops, is considered the most beautiful and richest worldwide, thanks to its biodiversity.

Socotra is the largest and most important of the four islands comprising the Socotra Archipelago. These islands are: Socotra, Abd al Kuri, Samhah, and Darsah. The archipelago is located at the point where the Indian Ocean, Arab Sea and Horn of Africa meet, its islands running parallel to Yemen's Southwest coastline between the Mahra and Hadramout governorates. The archipelago's total area is estimated at 2,650 square kilometers while Socotra Island is 125 kilometers long and 33 kilometers wide.

The Socotra Archipelago has unique biodiversity. According to relevant studies, Socotra Island includes up to 850 tree species, of which 293 are unique species found only on the island.

The most salient trees available on the island are the Dragon's Blood Tree, Euphorbia Arbuscula and Jatropha Uni cortata, in addition to other unique tree species, famous for their thick timber and leaves. Incense trees are also available on the Island.

Socotra is home to various species of birds, insects, reptiles and other animals. Members of the French diplomatic mission that conducted a scientific study on the island's creatures revealed that there are six bird species on the island which don't exist in other parts of the world. The Socotra Archipelago also has ten bird species, including the Golden Winged Bird, South Arabian Wheatear, Arabian Partridge and Arabian Woodpecker, that are hardly available in other parts of the world.

The French diplomatic mission members also mentioned that the Socotra Archipelago is home to many unique insect species and daytime butterflies, 15 of which are settled species. There are also 60 species of night butterflies, plus 100 species of flying insects, 80 of which exist only on Socotra.

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Other animals on the island include thousands of Socotran goats spread throughout the island's mountains and valleys, the Zabad animal from which citizens extract Zabad, a substance used by perfume labs in Europe. A distinctive feature of the Socotra Archipelago is that it is free of beasts that may, if available, threaten the survival of useful animals.

There are many rare reptiles of various size on the island, in addition to serpents and scorpions, some of which are poisonous.

Another striking feature is that lobsters and other living beings that normally exist in salt water live in fresh water on the island. Numerous fish species and other sea animals, including sharks and shrimp, are also available.

Other sea animals include 60 kinds of sponges, as well as other precious creatures which play a vital role in the process of environmental balance. Other kinds of sponges have biological characteristics that enable them to kill harmful bacteria, which implies that they can be exploited for the drug industry. There are also 15 kinds of parasites, 6 of which are poisonous. In the Socotra Archipelago, the sea floor is rich with precious red corals, which, according to researchers, are still conserving their pure natural characteristics.