The Daallo Forest is set on a spectacular stretch of escarpment rising to 2,416m above the coastal plain below.

Daallo Forest Somaliland by Ariadne Van Zandbergen, Africa Image LibraryGlades of aromatic junipers, otherworldly dragon’s blood succulents, and frankincense-bearing Boswellia trees overlook a shimmering shoreline 2,000m below © Ariadne Van Zandbergen, Africa Image Library

Somaliland’s foremost natural attraction, the Daallo (or Daloh) Forest lies in the spectacular Calmadow (or Al Mado) Range, a tall limestone and gypsum escarpment that rises dramatically from the low-lying coastal plain between Maydh and Bosaso. Little known to outsiders and as yet undeveloped for tourism, Daallo is less than an hour’s drive north of Erigavo, close to the base of Mount Shimbiris, the highest point anywhere in Somalia. The main attractions of Daallo are the stupendous clifftop views from the top of the escarpment to the distant Gulf of Aden more than 2,000m below, and a rich biodiversity that includes at least 200 endemic plant species, along with many woodland birds and other animals whose range is confined to the Somali region.

Biologically, Daallo represents the most accessible and largest semi-pristine relict of Somali Montane Xeric Woodland, an eco-region confined to the 300km-long escarpment running inland from the northern Somali coast. Isolated from other similar habitats by the vast swathes of desert that cover the Somali interior and the far east of Ethiopia, this important centre of endemism supports a unique combination of plant species, with links to the Afromontane, Mediterranean and Micronesian regions, and much of it remains unexplored in scientific terms. Plans to set aside the forest as a national park have been in the pipeline for years but, as things stand, it is not accorded any formal protection and large stands of woodland have been chopped down in recent years by charcoal burners.

Daallo is the wettest part of Somaliland, receiving a mean annual rainfall of around 750mm, most of which falls between April and October, when the wellwatered lower slopes form the country’s main centre of agriculture. During the drier winter months, sea fogs and mist are an important supplementary source of water for common high-altitude trees such as Juniperus procera, Buxus hildebrantii, Olea chrysophylla and Sideroxylon buxifolium. A striking plant associated with Daallo is the endangered Gabel Elba dragon’s blood tree (Dracaena ombet), a thick-stemmed, spike-leaved succulent that manages to grow in the most unlikely crags and is known locally as mooli. The lower slopes of the escarpment also support large stands of Boswellia frereana, whose resin is used to make frankincense.

Daallo supports the densest and perhaps the richest fauna of the Somali region. It is of particular interest to birdwatchers as the best place to see a host of endemics and other localised specials, including Archer’s buzzard, Archer’s francolin, Somali thrush, Warsangli linnet and Somali golden-winged grosbeak, as well as more typical African highland and forest species, ranging from the busy Abyssinian white-eye to the stunning Narina trogon. Mammals are more elusive but include Hamadryas baboon, two species of hyrax and the endearing Speke’s pectinator. The endemic beira antelope was once resident in the region, but we know of no recent sightings. The forest also supports a varied selection of secretive predators – locals claim that leopard and spotted hyena are quite common – and we had a magnificent view of a striped hyena lying in the middle of the road shortly after dusk.

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