Two men were killed and the third had a narrow escape when a tiger attacked the bike-borne trio travelling on a link road that passes through the Pilibhit forest reserve in UP. The 23-year-old survivor had managed to climb a tree nearby and spent the entire night there even as the big cat made several failed attempts to strike at him.

Vikas (who only uses his first name) gathered the courage to come down from the tree only after he saw local residents pass by the next morning. "We informed police and forest department after we saw the man, terrified and barely able to speak. A bike was lying nearby and next to it was a body. There were claw marks on the tree that saved the man's life," said Rajendra Prasad, a local resident.

The attack occurred on Sunday night when Kandhai Lal (35) was returning along with his nephew Sonu Kumar (22) and his friend Vikas after meeting his in-laws in Jalalpur village in Shahjahanpur.

According to the forest department, the men were in an inebriated state and were warned by the forest guard about tiger movement in the area along the 10km long link road. "Movement of three tigers had been recorded by our staff in this particular beat of the forest and the victims were cautioned as well but they ignored the warning," deputy director of Pilibhit Tiger Reserve Naveen Khandelwal told TOI.

The bodies — one of them partially-eaten — have been sent for autopsy while Vikas is recovering in a hospital. "The man had a cellphone on him but since there is no network in the area, he spent the night on the tree. He is in shock and keeps losing consciousness. We will record his statement once he is able to talk," said Khandelwal.

The deputy director said the attack was "unusual" since tigers don't attack moving vehicles. "Either the victims saw the animal on the road and lost balance after which it pounced on them or they must have stopped their bike for some reason," he said, adding that the area hasn't recorded big cat attacks in the past few years.

Since the incident has taken place inside the reserve forest area, the victims will not be entitled for compensation, according to the official. "We are now sensitising locals to refrain from taking the road after dark," he said.

Twenty camera traps have been set up to monitor the area. "We have recovered pug marks of two tigers while combing the area. The camera trap monitoring will provide more information as the tiger is expected to return to the spot," said Khandelwal.

Last month, two bikers in Nepanagar town, 320km from Bhopal, had managed to fend off a leopard attack by throwing a two-pound cake on the animal's face.