Man smuggles nearly 5,000 leeches into hand luggage on Toronto-bound flight

A man has been fined C$15,000 (£8,792) for attempting to smuggle thousands of leeches into Canada in his carry-on baggage. 

Ippolit Bodounov of Niagara Falls was travelling from Russia to Toronto’s Pearson International Airport on 17 October last year when he was stopped and detained.

The discovery was made after a sniffer dog working with border agents identified the creatures, according to a report. 

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Canadian environment officials found 4,788 live leeches in a grocery bag.

Leeches are strictly regulated, and the smuggled creatures were then sent off for tests to determine if they were lawful.

In a statement, Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) said: “These species are regulated because over-harvesting of medicinal leeches from the wild is a major threat to the species.”

Tests showed that of the leeches were wild. 

The leeches were identified as hirudo verbana, one of only two species of medicinal leech subject to regulations aimed at controlling the wildlife trade.

Sebastian Kvist of the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto told CBC News that, surprisingly, all of the leeches survived.

The harvesting of leeches for medicinal purposes has happened since medieval times, although their effectiveness is subject to debate. 

Gerry Brunet, operations manager of ECCC’s wildlife enforcement directorate, said: “This is our first large-scale illegal leech import.”

Bodounov pleaded guilty to violating the Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act.

In addition to the fine, Bodounov was banned for a year from importing, exporting and possessing any animals regulated through the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

Brunet said illegal wildlife trade is worth about C$20 billion a year. 

“Canada does not tolerate the exploitation of threatened species for profit,” he said.

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