However, the search is now far more serious than first thought, as not only were the monkeys smuggled into the country illegally, tests have proven that one of them which was already seized is carrying the HIV virus, and so they now pose a significant risk to human health.
The original operation took place in October when officers located 25 of a shipment of 67 monkeys. Of those which they located, 20 were alive and were taken to animal rescue centres, including the AAP Primadomus de Villena, and the Arca de Noé, both in the Alicante province.
Once settled into the centres, tests were carried out on the creatures in order to analyse their health and welfare. Those checks have already found that one of the specimens is carrying the HIV virus. The results of second tests are still outstanding as they have to be done six-weeks after the first, and will be conducted in a second laboratory to ensure compliance.
Officers in charge of the operation are aware of the 42 primates which are still missing, and are urging anybody who may have come across a monkey, or may be aware of their presence, to contact them urgently.
Despite requiring licences, it is not uncommon for exotic animals to be given as gifts at this time of year, which is why the officers are becoming increasingly concerned. The risk to the public is considered severe if an infected animal manages to spread the virus.
Searches have already been carried out in a number of establishments known to trade in exotic species, including in areas such as Elche, Torrellano, and Algueña Agost in Alicante, as well as further afield such as in Seville, Almeria and Albacete.
The officers warn that a veterinary certificate does not guarantee the legality, origin or sanitary control of the animal and in some cases are known to be fakes.
If you are in possession of a prohibited animal, or know someone in that situation species, firstly use extreme caution when interacting with any type of primate, and contact the environmental department of the Guardia Civil, SEPRONA.
The Guardia Civil can be contacted by telephone on 062, or, in the event that you don´t speak Spanish, the 112 emergency coordination centre speak a variety of languages. You can also report to your nearest Guardia Civil station, or ask the local police for assistance, requesting that they contact SEPRONA.