TOUCHING Gibraltar’s famous monkeys will be made an offence, the Government has announced.
The move is a response to fears that the Rock’s 300 Barbary macaques could catch COVID-19.
The Government has published a Bill to amend the Animals Act in a bid to protect the animals, which can contract human diseases.
In the past the monkeys have caught Hepatitis A, while during the pandemic, primates in other parts of the world, are known to have been ‘susceptible’ to coronavirus.
A spokesperson said the Act: “Will make touching or other interference with the natural behaviour of macaques an offence except under licence for management, research or veterinary purposes.”
Tourists hugging, playing and feeding the animals will therefore become a thing of the past – at least for the time being.
Feeding Europe’s only wild monkeys is already illegal, with those who do so facing fines of up to £4,000.
A spokesperson for the Government said its clampdown on monkey-touching would be ‘strict’.
They added: “Interference with Barbary macaques has always been seen as detrimental to them.
“The official line has for years been to discourage visitors from touching or otherwise interferring with macaque natural behaviour.
“Not only does it prejudice their health and social structure but macaques are prone to succumb to human disease.
“With the arrival of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, the Government will be taking strict measures to prevent contact with the macaques.
“This is in order to minimise the risk of their contracting the disease and becoming ill or dying.”
Gibraltar has so far registered just 170 COVID-19 cases and zero fatalities, while the global death toll stands at 376,000.
The Government spokesperson claimed it was ‘virtually definite’ that the macaques have not contracted the virus.
It is understood that the new measure will come into force after approximately one month of ‘public exposure’.
The Rock’s most famous residents, who have been immortalised on souvenir mugs and magnets, are believed to have inhabited Gibraltar since the 12th century.
Dr Eric Shaw told the Olive Press: “People have a bad habit of feeding them so they have become accustomed to knowing when food is around.
“It’s a common mistake made by new mothers taking prams up the Rock with baby food stored underneath – the macaques will go for it.”
The Olive Press has contacted the Government for further details on the new announcement.