By Neil Henderson
BBC News, Colombo
Crocodiles and tigers are likely to make a comeback
The last known wild animals of Sri Lanka are under threat as a result of the economic downturn.
A few years ago, poachers were preying on tigers, and in the winter months stray crocodiles were prowling the streets.
But the government’s presence on the streets is helping to maintain the peace. Now, for the first time in years, the wild tigers are back and so are the crocodiles.
But not everybody is happy with this apparent triumph over the effects of economic decline.
For years, tigers and crocodiles prowled Sri Lanka’s streets. Many tourists would swan out of the crowded train stations in Colombo and look out for the first signs of predators: the long line of crocodiles on a river bank, the throngs of tigers – some killed, some running as far as the town.
It is a sight that can delight children and adults alike.
But many coastal towns including south-east Sri Lanka have been badly hit by the economic downturn.
There is less tourism, fewer people hunting for wild game, so more of the apex predators are becoming trapped and disposed of.
The government now plans to cull those reptiles and tigers.
A long series of tourism events for the country this year has been cancelled or drastically cut back.
Tourism officials say government figures show a definite decline in visitor numbers.
The weak US dollar has dented international travel. US visitors to Sri Lanka fell by 14% last year. And foreign bookings for this year are down 22%.
Government officials are loath to admit they have gambled on winning over tourists.
But the mood of doom and gloom is making every effort to save tiger and crocodile habitats a little harder to reach.
There are hundreds of kilometres of protected tiger and crocodile zones that are at the risk of being cordoned off and destroyed.
But the government’s tourism appeal is not strong enough to turn away worried families from clicking their fingers in frustration.