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Horn of Africa Hotspot

Extending from Yemen to Kenya, the Horn of Africa is one of the only two arid regions recognised as a biodiversity hotspot. Though the hotspot covers and area of 1,659,363 sq km a large portion of the land area has limited flora. The vegetation type in the region is mainly Acacia-Commiphora bushland interspersed with small patches of evergreen bushland, succulent shrubland, dry evergreen forests, woodlands, low growing dune and rock vegetation and semi-desert grasslands.

The region has over 5,000 plant species, 55% of which are endemic to the region. The Horn of Africa is famous for plants like frankincense (Boswellia sacra and B. frereana), myrrh (Commiphor myrrha and C. guidottii) and cinnabar or dragons blood (Dracaena cinnabari) which yield gum resins. Other interesting species of plants seen in this hotspot include the cucumber tree (Dendrosicyos socotrana), daban palm (Livistona carinensis), Yeheb nut (Cordeauxia edulus) and Somali cyclamen (Cyclamen somalense).

The region has 220 mammal, 697 bird, 285 reptile, 30 amphibian and 100 freshwater fish species. Birds endemic to the region include the bush shrike, Bulo Burti boubou (Laniarius liberatus), golden-winged grosbeak (Rhynchostruthus socotranus), Warsangli linnet (Carduelis johannis) and Djibouti francolin (Francolinus ochropectus). Mammalian inhabitants unique to the region include the beira (Dorcatragus megalotis), dibatag (Ammodorcas clarkei), Speke's gazelle (Gazella spekei), Arabian oryx (Oryx leucoryx), Arabian leopard (Panthera pardus minor), Somali wild ass (Equus africanus somaliensis), sacred baboon (Papio hamadryas), Somali pygmy gerbil (Microdillus peeli), ammodile (Ammodillus imbellis) and Speke's pectinator (Pectinator spekei). The Horn of Africa's highest level of endemism occurs among reptiles. These include skinks, geckos and three species of snakes. Despite suitable habitats amphibians are poorly represented. Among freshwater fishes are three cave-dwelling endemics, two of which found in Somalia are blind-the Somalian blind barb (Barbopsis devecchii) and Somalian cavefish (Phreatichthys andruzzii).

Overgrazing, shifting cultivation, bushmeat hunting, utilisation of forest wood for charcoal production, political instability and infrastructure development like construction of roads, ports and airports have destroyed large areas of forest land. Added to this, poor governmental support has made the hotspot a critically depleted region. The 41 protected areas cover just 145,322 sq km or 9% of the land area. The only major conservation initiatives in the region include the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's World Network of Biosphere Reserves and an Italy-Yemen inter-governmental United Nations Development Programme aided project for biodiversity conservation in Socotra Islands.

[The information has been sourced from the Conservation International website on biodiversity hotspots ( Accessed in February 2008.]

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