Travelling to Socotra with the British and Liverpool Museums Expedition (1898/99).
The journey continues…
Homhil proved a “successful and delightful sojourn, adding largely to both the flora and fauna [collected]”. The camp, surrounded by the iconic Dragon’s Blood Trees (see them yourself here), had an ideal climate, 26°C during the day, 18°C at night.
Ten days later, after difficulties agreeing the onward route, the party retraced their steps to the Hadibu Plain. Turning southwards they pitched tents at Elhe and spent two days preparing fresh camels. On the second day, Forbes forgot to put one of his gaiters on and suffered a severe sunburn on his leg (having my own prominent sunburn scar, this is another field experience I can empathise with). While back on the plain, Ogilvie-Grant collected the endemic – Socotra Grosbeak, Socotra Starling, and Socotra Warbler – amongst other animals.The party resumed their trek into the mountains, reaching an elevation with stunning sea views. They remained at Adho Dimellus (also spelt Adhoh di-Melhoh), the “roof of Sokotra”, until February 17th. Fieldwork often fuels friendships and an evening was spent entertaining an Austrian expedition party Forbes had met earlier in Aden.
Arriving back in Hadibu, the Brits prepared for the homeward voyage, leaving Socotra on February 21st after nearly 11 weeks on the island. A two-day interlude at Abd el Kuri allowed further collections to be made, including another specimen of the endemic (to the archipelago) Socotra Cormorant. This species was described as new to Western science by Ogilvie-Grant and Forbes, based on the adult male, of which there is one specimen at the Natural History Museum and one in Liverpool. Forbes, Ogilvie-Grant and Cutmore left Aden on a British India Steamer on February 28th. The extensive collections, including hundreds of birds and plants and thousands of arthropods and molluscs, were split between the Liverpool and British Museums, and specialists were invited to compile taxonomic checklists.
The Socotra Archipelago has become known as the “Galapagos of the Indian Ocean” due to the high number of endemic and unusual species found there. It was added to the list of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites in 2008. Today the islands are impacted by geopolitics, rapid development including urbanisation and tourism, and the effects of climate change, which are acute for small isolated islands. Last September, UNESCO and the Friends of Socotra launched the Connect2Socotra campaign to raise awareness of the rich and distinct natural and cultural heritage of Socotra, the threats they face, and need for their protection. As part of the campaign, material from the British and Liverpool Museums Expedition was displayed at World Museum highlighting its continued significance and relevance.
DISCLAIMER: To the best of my knowledge, for the past 30 years, National Museums Liverpool and its staff have not conducted any fieldwork involving the sacrifice of vertebrate animals. The specimens in the vertebrate zoology collection are predominantly historic (such as those from the Socotra expedition) or salvaged specimens (see a brief discussion about new collecting here). My fieldwork has mostly focussed on invertebrate collecting (like Ogilvie-Grant I work in a bird collection but also have a passion for butterflies). My vertebrate focussed fieldwork has been limited to the collection of non-lethal, minimally-invasive samples (bat hair, turtle skin scrapes) and the development of techniques for indirect vertebrate surveys (invertebrate-derived DNA and environmental DNA).
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Anne Imre, Alice Leeds and Kelly Russ have been volunteering at World Museum for the past year, photographing specimens collected during the Socotra Expedition and cleaning specimen records. Donna Young provided feedback on this blog post and the sketch of the cucumber tree. Geraldine Reid and Tony Parker curated “The Biodiversity of Socotra” display at World Museum.