Socotra (Arabic: سُقُطْرَى Suquṭra), also spelled Soqotra, is a small archipelago of four islands in the Indian Ocean and out of them, the largest island, also called as Socotra Island, is about 95% of the total land mass.
This island is very isolated and lies around 240 kilometres (150 miles) east of the Horn of Africa and 380 kilometres (240 mi) south of the Arabian Peninsula. Going by the process of speciation, a third of its plant life is found nowhere else on the planet and considered as the most alien-looking place on Earth with dimensions of 132 kilometres (82 miles) in length and 49.7 kilometres (30.9 miles) in width.
The name Suqotra is not Greek in origin, but from the Sanskrit dvīpa (island) sukhadhara (“supporting, or providing bliss“).
Another probable origin of the name is the Arabic “Suq” meaning “market” and “qotra” meaning “dripping frankincense or a single drop of liquid“.
Initially, there was an Oldoway (or Oldowan) culture in Socotra and stone tools of that culture were found in the area around Hadibo in 2008.
Socotra Island appears as Dioskouridou (“of Dioscurides“) in the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, a 1st-century AD Greek navigation aid.
Discovery of texts in several languages, including a wooden tablet in Palmyrene dated to the 3rd century AD, indicate the diverse origins of those who used Socotra as a trading base in antiquity.
Majority of the texts found on wood, caves, rocks are written in the Indian Brāhmī script, but there are also inscriptions in South-Arabian, Ethiopian, Greek, Palmyrene and Bactrian scripts and languages dating to later years.
Mysterious and strange looking Dragon’s Blood Trees in Socotra Island
This island has close to 700 endemic species, found nowhere else on earth; only Hawaii, New Caledonia, and the Galapagos Islands have more impressive numbers.
Most striking of Socotra’s plants is the dragon’s blood tree (Dracaena cinnabari), which is a strange-looking, umbrella-shaped tree. Its red sap was thought to be the dragon’s blood of the ancients, sought after as a dye, and today used as paint and varnish.
These trees can grow for more than 300 years.
In ancient times, various endemic aloes were used medicinally, and for cosmetics.
Socotra island group also has a rich fauna, including several endemic species of birds, such as the Socotra Starling (Onychognathus frater), the Socotra Sunbird (Nectarinia balfouri), Socotra Bunting (Emberiza socotrana), Socotra Cisticola (Cisticola haesitatus), Socotra Sparrow (Passer insularis), Socotra Golden-winged Grosbeak (Rhynchostruthus socotranus), and a species in a monotypic genus, the Socotra Warbler (Incana incana).
Many of the bird species are endangered by predation by non-native feral cats.
While there are no native amphibians, the reptiles species are over 90 percent endemic to Socotra and include skinks, legless lizards, and one species of chameleon, Chamaeleo monachus.
he Periplus of the Erythraean Sea says the island had crocodiles and large lizards, and the present reptilian fauna appears to be greatly reduced. Until a few centuries ago, there were rivers and wetlands on the island, greater stocks of the endemic trees, and abundant pasture. The Portuguese recorded the presence of water buffaloes in the early 17th century.
But human settlements over more than two thousand years have changed the environment.
Now there are only sand gullies, and many native plants only survive where there is greater moisture or protection from livestock.
The remaining Socotra fauna is greatly threatened by goats and other introduced species, as well as climate change.
Socotra island was recognised by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as a world natural heritage site in July 2008.
The European Union has supported such a move, calling on both UNESCO and International Organisation of Protecting Environment to classify the island archipelago among the environmental heritages.