A man has appeared before a French judge on suspicion of stealing 14 endangered squirrel monkeys from a zoo.
The monkeys, belonging to the Saimiri genus, were stolen a week ago from a zoo in La Londe-les-Maures, about 70km (43 miles) east of Marseille.
All of the monkeys were microchipped, and one was later found in the basement of an apartment building in Marseille where the 20-year-old suspect lives.
Each monkey can fetch thousands of euros on the black market.
Prosecutors believe the arrested man was working as part of an organised gang, the AFP news agency reported.
Samuel Finielz, senior prosecutor in the nearby port city of Toulon, said the suspect’s vehicle “was seen near the scene of the crime”.
“It seems clear there were several people aboard the vehicle, and this theft required planning ahead,” he said.
The 20-year-old accused has denied any involvement in the theft, which took place overnight on 26 January.
Following his arrest, he was held for 48 hours ahead of his appearance before an investigating magistrate on Friday.
Prosecutors have requested charges of theft, and holding and transporting a protected species as part of an organised gang.
They have asked that the suspect remain in custody to prevent him destroying evidence and contacting any accomplices.
The maximum sentence is seven years in jail.
A further two monkeys in the troop, a mother and child, were left outside the home of a member of the public – also in Marseille – prompting the homeowner to call the Society for the Protection of Animals (SPA).
But eleven monkeys remain unaccounted for and there is concern for their welfare.
Squirrel monkeys originating from Central and South America are on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature so-called “red list” of endangered species.
Anyone with any knowledge of the monkeys’ whereabouts is urged to contact the police with animal experts warning that “their life expectancy without appropriate care is very limited”.