Nigel Redman: Bird Tour Leader

Nigel Redman is the author of Birds of the Horn of Africa (Princeton Field Guides) and leads birdwatching tours in Africa.

How would you characterise birdlife in Somaliland? Many of the birds in Somaliland are typical of those found in the drier eastern parts of East Africa, but a suite of endemic species are of considerable interest to birders. Top targets include the little brown bustard, Somali pigeon, Somali wheatear, Philippa’s Crombec and Warsangli Linnet.

Where are the best birdwatching spots in Somaliland? Half of Somaliland’s special birds are found on the extensive, semi-arid plains and bushland that cover most of the country. The rest are in the hills of the escarpment, which rises to 2400m and runs east to west, close to the coast. The best and most scenic area is the magnificent Daallo Forest which holds all of the highland specialities.

What makes birdwatching in Somaliland different from other birdwatching destinations in Africa? The 15 or so species that can only be seen in the Somali region; all but two of these endemics occur in Somaliland. Somaliland is perhaps best known for its profusion of larks (20 species).

Is it safe to sign up for a birdwatching tour in Somaliland? Yes, at present it is. Somaliland has a stable and democratically elected government. The authorities require visitors to be escorted by armed soldiers, just to be on the safe side.

What about mammals? Although not as rich in mammals as East Africa, Somaliland has a wide variety of mammals. Most interesting is probably the beira, a small, unique species of antelope that is only found in Somaliland and Djibouti. Speke’s gazelle is another Somali endemic and quite easy to see.

Rock Art Sites Between Hargeisa & Borama

There are two ancient rock art sites off the main road between Hargeisa and Borama. Though playing second fiddle to Las Geel, they’re worth stopping at on the way to Borama if you have your own vehicle with driver – a 4WD is recommended. It’s also advisable to hire a guide who knows the exact location of the sites, as there are no signs.

Coming from Hargeisa, the first rock art site, Dhagax Khoure, lies about 45km northwest of the capital and 15km off the main road. It comprises several individual painted shelters scattered on a rocky hill. According to archaeologists, they may be more than 5000 years old.

The main shelter has an inclined ceiling which is decorated with an assemblage of bovid figures as well as one giraffe and one anthropomorphic figure. The second most important shelter, which lies at the base of the granite outcrop, is adorned with panels representing sheep (or goats) and a few human figures holding a bow. The colours and the complexity of the paintings are much less striking than those at Las Geel, but they’re interesting nonetheless. The eerie landscape is another draw.

You’ll be met by the local caretaker, who’ll be happy to show you the main panels in exchange for a tip.

Back to the main road, continue further west until you reach the town of Gebiley. Dhagax Marodi lies about 2.5km north of Gebiley and features a huge cow, perhaps 1.5m tall, inscribed on a big slab. Sadly, it has been badly damaged by vandals.