National Geographic : 2012 Jun
• road that would have cut directly across this biological treasure-house. The road project had been undertaken despite protests of con- servationists; the cli s were le unscarred only because the builders lacked the technical expertise to traverse them. Better planning would have protected biodiversity and made construction more practical. At another low- land site, called Iryosh, petroglyphs found on flat rocks may contain clues about Socotra's earliest settlement. But in 2003 the government destroyed at least 10 percent of them by cutting a road across the area. Such construction opens new areas to devel- opment, and if tourism regains its momentum, pressure will grow to sell land to foreign inves- tors. On an island with a tradition of communal ownership, disputed land claims and the pos- sibility of quick pro ts are dividing villages and even families, as well as eroding long-standing respect for natural resources. Already, newly built roads snake around Socotra's perimeter, and new hotels and shops are under construc- tion in Hadibu, most of them owned by people who don't live on the island. Yet in the Hajhir Mountains the old ways seem as enduring as the granite peaks. Village muqad- dams arise at dawn and sing to their goats, and rural people still go to traditional healers who burn them to drive away disease. The night mist lifts with the sun, the Socotra starlings it through the dragon's blood trees, the small doves sing their throaty oh, rococo calls, and mysterious owers bloom on hillsides where no one ever walks. Toward the end of my trip I traveled with Kay Van Damme, Lisa Ban eld, and our guides to the Momi Plateau, an area of rolling limestone ridges and scattered shrubs underlain by vast caves full of rare endemic freshwater shrimps and other invertebrates. As we began our walk, an old man with a wispy white beard came rush- ing up, shouting, What were we doing on his land? We must leave! He said that if he were We stopped beside a plant---a squat thing that looked as Called mishhahir in Socotri, this succulent has served as emergency food for island inhabitants during periods of famine. Its flowers provide rare points of color amid the gray limestone of the Firmihin area.