Two people have been charged a year after a cheetah was spotted wandering along a B.C. highway.

Retirees Earl Pfeifer and Carol Plato each face one count of possessing an alien species — that is, any animal that isn't native to the province — without a permit. 

The animal was seen on the side of Highway 3A northeast of Nelson, B.C., on Dec. 17, 2015. RCMP warned residents to be on the lookout for the big, possibly dangerous cat wearing an orange cloth collar.

Conservation officers began looking for the endangered animal, but the search was called off the following week after no further sightings were reported. 

According to their Facebook page, Pfeifer and Plato once owned two cheetahs named Robin and Annie Rose. The pair wrote that the animals were imported from South Africa in April 2013 to be a part of conservation awareness programs.

Earl pfeifer carol plato cheetah b.c.

Earl Pfeifer and Carol Plato have been charged under the B.C. Wildlife Act after a cheetah was seen on the side of a highway in the Kootenays. (Facebook)

The cats were at Alberta's Discovery Wildlife Park for a short time after they arrived in Canada. The facility takes in orphaned animals as well as wild animals that can't legally be kept as pets.

Owner Doug Bos told CBC News the cheetah seen walking in B.C. looked just like Annie Rose.

He said the animal's owners were "people who always wanted to have cheetahs."

Bos said both cats left the facility in October 2014 due to safety reasons.

cheetah spotted

The search for the cheetah was called off less than a week after it was first seen along Highway 3A in B.C.'s Kootenay region. (RCMP)

It's illegal in B.C. to own a cheetah without a permit. No one in the province has obtained such a permit, although someone in the Kootenay area had applied for one, the Ministry of Forests said last year.

B.C. residents who don't have permission to own an exotic animal can face a fine of up to $250,000 or two years in jail.

The B.C. Conservation Officer Service (COS) announced the charges against Pfeifer and Plato on Thursday.

The organization didn't say whether the cat was ever found, but a representative said the cheetah wasn't likely to survive long in the cold Kootenay-area weather without food. 

Pfeifer and Plato are scheduled to make their first court appearance in February.

With files from the Canadian Press