Growing human population and poor conservation strategy are fast turning Uttarakhand's Terai belt into a killing field for tigers, sending alarm bells ringing among wildlife activists.
The Terai belt is part of the Corbett Tiger Reserve (CTR) landscape and forms the buffer zone of the game reserve.
Out of the five tigers which have died in the state this year so far, three perished in the forest divisions of Terai, show statistics provided by the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI), a Delhi-based NGO.
At least one of these deaths was attributed to poaching.
Last year too, four big cats had died in the Terai belt out of 10 tiger deaths in the state.
On the flip side, a man-eating tigress had emerged in the buffer zone of CTR last year and spread terror in Uttarakhand and neighbouring Uttar Pradesh.
"There are several villages in Terai with large human population. Since the three divisions of Terai are not protected areas, conservation strategy is poor, which often results in man-animal conflict," Tito Joseph, programme manager of WPSI, told Hindustan Times.
The CTR 'landscape' consists of seven forest divisions -Dehradun, Terai East, Terai West, Terai Central, Lansdowne, Ramnagar and Pauri.
The last count had put the number of tigers at 277 in the 520.82 sq km park, named after British hunter-conservationist Jim Corbett.
While wildlife activists sought better conservation plans for tigers in Corbett landscape, forest officials expressed helplessness in the face of growing population pressure.
Rahul Kumar, division forest officer (DFO) of Terai West, said that old and weak tigers often come out from the core areas of Corbett and move around in the landscape divisions, making them easy prey to humans.
"As Terai forest divisions are territorial divisions, we don't have a specialised plan for tiger conservation. Often people go inside forest for collection of firewood and grazing cattle," he said.
Paramjit Singh, director of the anti-poaching cell and chief conservator of forest (CCF) of Kumaon region also said that during the monsoons, tigers tend to stray and become victim of either man-animal conflict or poaching.
He, however, hoped that the newly-raised Special Tiger Protection Force (STPF) will be able to bring the situation under control.
"We plan to deploy an STPF brigade in the buffer areas of CTR," he added.
Official sources said, there are more than 100 villages with a population of over 25,000 in the three Terai forest divisions.
These villages are situated on the periphery of reserve forests and thus the inhabitants come in direct contact with wildlife.