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Coronavirus: Gibraltar seeks to protect macaques as it bans human touch

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A Barbary macaque in Gibraltar, March 1, 2017
A Barbary macaque in Gibraltar, March 1, 2017   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza
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Gibraltar has banned almost any form of human contact with its Barbary macaques to protect the animals from catching coronavirus.

In a statement published on Friday (May 29), the government of the British territory said that it wants to minimise the risk of them "contracting the disease and becoming ill or dying".

The species has proven in the past to be "prone to succumb to human disease" such as hepatitis, the government said, adding that "primates elsewhere have been "susceptible to catching COVID-19."

At the moment there is no evidence of Barbary macaques having contracted the virus in Gibraltar.

The bill, which will amend the current Animals Act, classifies touching the animals as an "offence" except "under licence for management, research or veterinary purposes."

Feeding the species is already illegal and is subjected to a €555 fine.

Barbary macaques, the only free-roaming monkeys in Europe, are mostly found at the top of the Upper Rock area of the Gibraltar Nature Reserve, a point that is accessed by tourists via cable car.

The government of Gibraltar believes that the monkey's presence in the area dates back to the Muslim occupation of the Iberian Peninsula in the 8th century.

Gibraltar has been little affected by the pandemic, with 169 confirmed cases and zero deaths so far, while neighbouring Spain is one of the worst-hit countries in Europe, accounting for over 27,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.