A Chinese couple who were arrested on suspicion of keeping protected monkeys as pets may be handed a five-year prison term. The man and woman are charged with illegally hunting nationally-protected animals.

The two admitted to snatching a pair of macaques during their visit to Shanghai's Sheshan National Forest Park in August, local media reports said on Sunday (29 October).

The two were stopped at a routine checkpoint near Shanghai on 20 October while they were driving along a section of the Shenyang-Haikou Expressway, the South China Morning Post reported.

The traffic officers said they discovered the woman seated in the passenger's seat cradling a young macaque in her arms. When she was taken into the inspection room, the police found that she had another monkey hidden under her clothes.

The woman first claimed that the primates were her pets, but after officers pressed the couple to produce paperwork for the exotic animals, the two reportedly surrendered.

The couple told the police that they had lured the monkeys at the park using pieces of bread and taken them home by putting them in a bag.

The two monkeys who were dressed in pet clothes, were later confirmed to be Rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta) — a monkey species protected by the Chinese government.

Anyone found guilty of catching or killing protected animals in China can be sentenced to between five and 10 years in prison besides being fined, Global Times news website reported.