Security was stepped up at Liverpool Airport last night [Tuesday] after fears were raised that monkey and ape meat is being smuggled into the UK from tropical countries.

Around 5.5 tonnes of the meat, which is a delicacy in Western and Central Africa, is smuggled through British airports every year according to research conducted by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). The majority of this is carried in suitcases and sometimes hand luggage.

Nathan Argent, bushmeat campaigner at the IFAW, told the Liverpool Echo: "There are two serious issues here. There are health and safety implications but if this trade is not stopped we are looking at the extinction of man's closest relative."

Fears have also been raised as to the diseases carried by the wild animal meat, which include the highly infectious viral disease monkey pox and cattle plague, the human equivalent of foot and mouth disease.

Robin Tudor, business services manager at the airport, told the newspaper: "We are closely monitoring the situation to see if Liverpool needs to put precautionary measures in place.

"I can confirm Liverpool Airport is on stand-by to take any necessary action if the government recommends us to do so."