PARIS - An ape found near Paris might have died of rabies and anyone who has recently been bitten or scratched by a monkey in the region should seek medical care, health authorities said on Friday.

The sick Barbary ape was abandoned near a vet's clinic in the southeastern suburbs of Paris earlier this week. It died shortly afterwards and initial tests suggested it had been suffering from rabies or Simian herpes.

Further tests are underway, but as a precautionary measure the health ministry issued a statement warning of the risks.

Although it is illegal to own Barbary apes as pets, authorities believe that many of the animals are illegally smuggled into France from Morocco and Algeria and are seen as the ultimate furry status symbol in the tough Paris suburbs.

Cuddly as babies, Barbary apes rapidly grow into strong, aggressive adults with powerful teeth and claws.