Trekking to Socotra near Mount Skand and wadi Ayhaft canyon
20 and 21 February 2014
With its 1525 meters above sea level, Skand is Socotra's highest mountain and a trek around the main peak reveals many endemic plants of Socotra, immersed in a unique landscape hosting also shepherds' huts living here in hard conditions and isolated from the rest of the world. The slopes ending into Wadi Ayhaft canyon have an higher rainfall than Socotra's average, so they are home to a verdant forest rich in endemic species unique in the world.
The island of Socotra is spectacular not only just for the sea and beaches, but also for the central mountain range that offers the opportunity to go trekking in order to discover enchanting mountain landscapes where there are many endemic plants.
Trekking in Socotra near Mount Skand, the mountain which, with its 1525 meters above sea level, is the highest of the island. The trek starts from an altitude of around 900 meters, the highest point where you can get with a 4x4 car. The circuit scheduled for today consists in a loop of about 15 chilometers and a length of about 7 hours.
At lower elevations I encounter the rare and precious Socotran pomegranate (Punica protopunica
) where I can observe the flowers and the fruits in the development stage. Due to the limited range of distribution, the pomegranate of Socotra or Punica protopunica
is classified by IUCN as "vulnerable".
There are many Aloe, especially at lower altitudes.
Another endemic flower of the island of Socotra is the Helichrysum balfourii
, produced by a thin herbaceous plant belonging to the Asteraceae
The Euphorbia schimperi
is a succulent plant that is found quite frequently on the Hagger mountains and other areas of Socotra.
Protected by the shade of some rocks, I find a variety of Kalanchoe farinaceous
, a succulent plant endemic to the island of Socotra and belonging to the family of Crassulaceae
, which produces beautiful flowers of a bright red.
A nice flower of Dicliptera effusa
On Hagger mountains, around Mount Skand, it is quite common to find plants of Euryops arabicus
, which consist of low bushes with yellow flowers.
Very interesting is the Adiantum balfourii
, a fern that grows mainly in the shade of large stones.
On the Hagger mountains, I meet also the rock gecko, a small reptile belonging to the genus Pristurus
A deep canyon cuts through this plateau in the mountains of Hagger in Socotra.
Crossing the canyon is perhaps the most difficult and tiring part of this trek in Socotra, which, however, does not require special techniques but simply good legs.
At higher altitudes the shrubs are becoming smaller and less numerous.
Incredibly, on this remote plateau in the Hagger mountains, above an island secluded in the Indian Ocean, there are small stone huts inhabitated by shepherds. Sometimes these huts are so small and camouflaged among the rocks, that are difficult to be seen. The living conditions are obviously very hard and supplies are only possible by moving on foot for many hours.
The landscape of the Hagger mountains in Socotra, near Mount Skand.
The grazing of animals introduced by humans ensures provisions to many families throughout Socotra, but at the same time pose a threat to all native plants that can't be found in other places of the world.
A view of Hagger mountains. Some peaks are often shrouded in clouds even when the sun shines on the rest of the island, as with their altitude they work as a nucleus of condensation for all the moisture coming from Arabian Sea.
For those having enough energy to go for further 15-20 kilometers on foot, beyond these mountains there is the wadi Ayhaft, a verdant canyon that is home to many endemic plants. Instead, I choose to sleep in a shelter in Thaher, reaching wadi Ayhaft the next day by 4x4 car.
Wadi Ayhaft in Socotra is one of the greenest areas of the island, thanks to the Hagger mountains that serve as the nucleus of condensation of moisture from the sea. The canyon is especially interesting from the botanical point of view, for the presence of some species that are not found elsewhere.
The terminal part of the branches of an Euphorbia arbuscula
, an Euphorbia having an arboreal habit.
Pictures of Dorstenia gigas
. The Dorstenia gigas
is a caudiciform succulent plant (the base of the trunk grows abnormally to store water for use during the drought) endemic to Socotra and belonging to the family of Moracee
(the same family that includes also the fig tree). This plant is classified by the IUCN as "vulnerable" and is likely to be downgraded to "threatened of extinction" as the population in nature is in decline. The reason for this decline seems to be related to an abusive and excessive collection, apparently needed to meet the demand of collectors from around the world.
In the wadi Ayhaft there are many Aloe.
I see also many trees of Sterculia africana
, characterized by large leaves resembling those of chestnut.
I meet also other succulent plants that live in the shadow of shrubs and larger trees.
In the bottom of the canyon, along the bed of a dry creek, there are several incense trees.