FACTBOX-Socotra, jewel of biodiversity in Arabian Sea

April 24 (Reuters) - Yemen's remote Socotra islands, which harbour many unique species of birds and plants, may gain UNESCO recognition in July as a world natural heritage site.

Here are some facts and travel information about Socotra:

- Socotra is the largest of an island group in the Arabian Sea, 380 km (238 miles) south of mainland Yemen and 80 km west of the Horn of Africa. It has 1,570 metre (5,150 foot) high granite mountains, deep valleys, limestone plateaux, sandy beaches, lagoons and wind-scoured cliffs dropping into the sea.

- Left in mid-ocean after the African and Arabian land masses split 20 million years ago, Socotra became a cradle of biodiversity rivalling the Galapagos and Mauritius. All its land mollusks, 90 percent of its 30 reptile species and a third of its 900 plant species are found nowhere else. At least six of its 181 bird species are endemic.

- Early seafarers were lured to Socotra by its prized frankincense, still harvested along with the red resin of Dragon's Blood trees and the medicinal sap of the Socotran Aloe.

- South Arabian tribes may have arrived in Socotra as early as 1000 BC. Alexander the Great sent an invading force around 330 BC. The Portuguese occupied it for three years from 1507. Part of Britain's Aden protectorate from the late 19th century until South Yemen won independence in 1967, Socotra remained largely isolated until north and south Yemen united in 1990.

- About 50,000 people of Indian, Arabian and African origins live there. They are Muslims and speak Socotri, an unwritten tongue that pre-dates Arabic. They live on fishing, livestock rearing, date cultivation and now tourism.

- Yemenia ( flies twice a week to Hadibo, the island capital, from the mainland cities of Sanaa and Aden. It is best to visit Oct-April to avoid seasonal winds and summer heat. Camping is preferable to Hadibo's modest guest houses. A four-wheel drive vehicle, with guide, driver and cook can be hired from $100 a day per person, including meals and camping gear. More information is available at

Source: Socotra Conservation Fund (Writing by Alistair Lyon)