Yemeni nature reserves contain unlimited treasures

National Yemen

Otma, the green land

By Tamjid Alkohali 

Most tourists who visit Yemen for the first time say that Yemen looks like a fabulous painting for its  beautiful landscapes. Yemen has rich plant and animal diversity, nurtured by a wide variety of environments. Some have been officially announced as nature reserves, such as Otma, Bora, Hof, Socotra, the Adeni wetlands, and others which are still under study.

Otma became the first official nature reserve in 1999. It’s located in Dhamar, and is about 500 square kilometers surrounded by a mountain range. These mountains rise between 920 and 2800 meters above sea level, and rise from the west. The vegetation covers about 80 to 90% of its total area, with about 60% of this being agricultural terraces, and 30% bushes, forest, and natural pastures.

According to a research study at Dhamar University, Otma has between 600 and 800 different kinds of medicinal and aromatic plants, as well as perennial trees. They have also discovered 267 different species: some of them being rare such as the wild pomegranate plant. Agriculture expert Dr. Mohammed Mefreh emphasized that the studies in Otma confirm that Yemen is the original home of this plant, and not China as previously thought.

Otma is also a major grain producer. 37-year-old farmer Ismail says that it has excellent dirt for grains, especially sorghum.

“We plant twelve kinds of sorghum, most being consumed by Otma’s population, and the rest being marketed in central and eastern Yemen.”

The agricultural terraces also have corn, millet, wheat, barley, legumes, fruits, vegetables, and coffee. There are also many unique animals such as lions, tigers, hyenas, wolves, foxes, monkeys, squirrels, lynxes, hares as well as different reptiles, birds, and insects.

Otma also has a strong history, with many monuments such as mountain forts that date back at least a millenium. Socotra is comparably beautiful, which is why it was announced as a reserve in 2000, and then as a governorate in 2013. It is considered to be a jewel of biodiversity in the Arabian Sea.

Socotra has endless wonders. It is a Yemeni archipelago consisting of four islands. It sits in the Indian Ocean, just off the Horn of Africa, 350 km south of the Arabian Peninsula. It is 3682 kilometers in total, and houses a population of 100, 000 people mostly employed in fishing, grazing, and agriculture.

According to specialists, Socotra is characterized by a wide cover of vegetation and enjoys over 750 distinct plant species. 300 of these plants are only found in Socotra. Some are used in folk medicine, especially the Dragons Blood Tree. Socotra also has highly distinct bird life, including six species that are not found anywhere else. Due to its wealth of other species, such as fish, molluscs, and sixty species of sponges, it is also the only nature reserve to contain other nature reserves.

After Socotra, the government announced the Hof area as a nature reserve in 2005. It is the biggest forest in the Arabian Peninsula, and is dominated by tropical plants. Located in al-Mahrah, Hof is ninety square kilometers located approximately 1400 kilometers away from Sana’a. It’s surrounded by a mountain range which rises about 1400 meters above sea level, including many stunning low valleys that benefit from the mild climate with rainy summers.

Bora followed Hof in 2006. Bora is located in east Hodeidah, and comprises an area of about 4100 hectares. It rises about 300 to 800 meters above sea level, with a height of five kilometers and an average width of 400 meters. It is the last and most important remnant of ancient tropical forests that were once prevalent in the Arabian Peninsula. It is dominated by plants of Sudanese origin, and contains a few desert areas.

According to experts, of the 315 plants in Bora, 63 are rare at national and regional levels, 83 are threatened with extinction, and 8 only live in the area. There are nine species of mammals, such as foxes and black baboons, and sixty species of unique butterflies. After Bora came the Adeni wetlands, as part of programs funded by the United Nations. The wetlands are 185 hectares, are regularly visited by more than 18, 000 waterfowl, and contain three species threatened by extinction.

We must be very careful about these species. Yemen is lucky to have all these reserves, especially since they attract tourism. However, we have to appreciate them, and preserve them for future generations. That means increased awareness, and a federal willingness to privilege their wellbeing.