Eco-tourism in Yemen [Archives:2002/09/Health]

February 25 2002


By: Ismail al-Ghaberi
YT Staff
The United Nations has declared the year 2002 as International Year of Eco-tourism, and Yemen has plenty to offer in terms of recognizing its natural attributes.
Yemen has laid the foundation for eco-tourism program through the The Sustainable Environment Management Program a document signed by the government and the UNDP in Sanaa, on March 16, 1997.
Eco-tourism development of Yemen
Situated at the southern end of the Arbian Peninsula, Yemen is bounded in the north by Saudi Arabia, in the east by Oman, in the south by the Gulf of Aden and in the west by the Red Sea.
The territory includes the islands of Kamaran and Perim in the Red Sea and Soqotra Archipelago in the Gulf of Aden.
And its located at the boundary between the Paearctic, Afrotropical and Asiatic zones, resulting in biodiversity that is among the highest in the Middle East.
Traditional forms of protecting range lands are still practiced in Yemen, often maintained by local communities over centuries for the production of hay, food reserves for livestock during periods of drought, or for firewood.
Other forms of traditional land protection include Waqf land or property donated to religious institutions.
Jebel Bura Forest, for example, was donated in 1309AH by Sheikh Bajil Beit al-Akih and Begeli, landowner to the religious community, after which it has been under continual protection.
Land systems
Yemen is characterized by five major land systems.
1) Hot and humid coastal plains, 30-60 km wide, along the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.
2) The Yemen Highlands, a region of volcanic origin with elevations between 1,000 and 3,660 meters above sea level (the latter figure corresponding to the highest point in the Arabian Peninsula, Jebal an-Nabi Shuayb), with temperate climate and monsoon rains.
3) The dissected region of the Yemen High Plateau and the Hadhramaut-Mahra Uplands, with altitudes up to 1,000 meters.
4) The ar-Ruba al-Khali desert interior, with hot and dry climate.
5) The islands, including Soqotra and surrounding islands with their unique biodiversity in the Arabian Sea, and at least 112 islands in the Red Sea.
Generally, on the south Arabian Peninsula there is 5-10% plant endemism. There is an absence of dense forest cover – except at few mountainous areas, such as Jebal Bura (Al-Hudeidah), Eraf Forest (Taiz), Ket Fah (Sada), Hawf (Al-Mahra), and Soqotra Island, open woodland or succulent scrub being prevalent on the mountain plains at 2,000 m. and at lower altitudes thickets and woods being largely of Acacia, an coastal mangrove.
The flora is dominated by desert and semi-desert vegetation throughout the country. Coral and sea-grass communities occur off the 756 km Red Sea coast. Mangroves have developed along 17% of the coast.
The wildlife has affinities to tropical Africa, mountain flora of the East-African Highlands and the eastern desert flora with the Sahaara-Sindian region.
The highlands support the majority of endemic or near-endemic species of plants and animals. High escarpment ravines contain remnant natural, juniper vegetation such as at Jebal Al-Lawz (Khawlan), Jebal Eraf (Taiz), Jebel Saber (Taiz). ket Fah (SAda), Hawf (Al-Mahra), and Kubbeitah (Taiz).
In the high mountaintops are unique flora assemblages including alpine type vegetation. An estimated 1,700 plant species have been identified.
Out of Yemens 555,000 sq km of land surface, grassland forest and woodland constitute nearly 40% mostly with scattered trees and shrub.
Land in many places is over-grazed by sheep, goats and cattle. Trees are increasingly cut for firewood, the countrys principal domestic energy source, and for construction material, resulting in further loss of land.
Even in remote areas like Soqotra island, over-cutting of timber and localized overgrazing are threats to the terrestrial biodiversity.
The flora of Soqotra Island is of particular botanical significance, including 273 endemic species, representing Somalia-Masia flora type communities.
The coast
The coast of northern Yemen is one of the most significant fishery areas in the Red Sea, providing important sources of food and income. Domestic livestock total are high, with 1.2 million head. There is virtually no large-scale industry.
Agriculture is one of the main assets of the economy, occupying some 80% of the population. Arable land represents only 3% of the total area of the country and is largely confined to fertile valleys and flood plains. Several irrigation schemes have been developed and others are in project stage.
Birds, birds, birds
In regards to wildlife, unfortunately most sizeable mammals have long since been hunted into extinction in this country, where guns abound and a large proportion of the natural forests have been cut down.
With some dedication and luck, eco-tourists may still sport rare land animals such as the Arabian Leopard, hyena. Hamadryad, baboon, honey badger, hedgehog, ibex, and fox.
But over 220 species of migrant and wintering birds have been recorded on migration, of a total species count of more then 360. Here are 55 species of mammals, 65 species of reptiles and 43 species of freshwater fish. In total, there are five species of globally threatened mammals, 18 of birds, four of reptiles and two of freshwater fish.
Yemen arguably offers the best birding on the Arabian Peninsula, at least in terms of diversity. Over 360 bird species have been recorded in the Republic including Soqotra, of which about 140 breed.
Soqotra alone has a bird list of over 125 species, of which about 33 are known, or thought, to be breed. All 13 South Arabian endemic for near-endemic birds species are found in the mainland, and a further six on the island of Soqotra.
This biodiversity is due to:
a) Its great diversity of habitats, largely the result of wide altitudinal and climatic range.
b) Its position at the foot of the Arabian Peninsula, lying at the center of a globally important flyway for migrant birds between Eurasia and Africa, and
c) its biological isolation by seas and deserts, which has resulted in the evolution of a relatively high endemism.
More bird species reported
From an eco-tourist point of view, the endemic bird species have the highest relevance. The endemic (and near-endemic) species of the mainland, found in the southern portion of the Arabian Peninsula. are:
Philibys and Arabian Partridges. Arabian Woodpecker, Yemen Thrush, Arabian Wheatear, Yemen Warbler, Arabian Golden Sparrow, Arabian Waxbill, Yemen Accentor, Arabian (Olive-numbed) and Yemen Serins.Yemen Linnet, and Golden-winged Grosbeak.
The authoritative report by M. Evans et al (1994), Important Bird Areas of the Middle East contains a detailed inventory of 57 sites which are of importance for the conservation of birds in Yemen.
These 57 sites, covering a total area of 7,300 sq km or about 1.4% of the area of the country, contain all the endemic or near-endemic bird species, as well as other rare, significant or limited-range species.
These sites, distributed around the country (including Soqotra island), also represent prime eco-tourism destinations in Yemen since, apart from containing important and interesting avifauna, many of them consist of relatively undisturbed natural areas and are of great botanical interest.
Some of them also contain other interesting types of animals. However, none of these sites are legally protected for nature conservation purposes, although some may be covered by traditional resource-use reserves, or mahjur, and many of them are in serious risk of degradation or destruction.