India’s Supreme Court has directed the government to suspend a move to reintroduce the cheetah, eradicated in India by hunting nearly a century ago.
The court’s decision came after some experts described the plan as “totally misconceived”.
Earlier, the government had approved wildlife groups’ recommendations of two sanctuaries, in Madhya Pradesh and an area in Rajasthan, as potential homes.
The plan was to import the cats from Africa, reports say.
A senior lawyer, PS Narasimha, told the court that the proposal to reintroduce the cheetah had not been discussed with the National Board for Wildlife, a statutory body for the enforcement of wildlife laws in India.
“Scientific studies show that the African cheetahs and Asian cheetahs are completely different, both genetically and also in their characteristics,” he said.
Mr Narasimha told the court that the reintroduction of the cheetah went against the guidelines on translocation of wildlife species laid down by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
The Asiatic cheetah vanished from India many decades ago, pursued by trophy hunters and herdsmen to the brink of extinction during the Raj.
Conservationists say fewer than 100 of the critically endangered subspecies remain in Iran, roaming the central deserts.
The vast majority of the 10,000 cheetahs left in the world are in Africa.
Critics of the reintroduction scheme in India say that without restoring habitat and prey-bases, and also reducing the chances of man-animal conflict, viable cheetah populations will not flourish.