On October 17, 2018, Ippolit Bodounov was aboard a flight from Russia to Toronto’s Pearson International airport when Border Services notified the Environment and Climate Change Enforcement Branch about the leeches.
On October 17, 2018, the Canada Border Services Agency found that the passenger arrived at Torontos Pearson International Airport, with a large amount of live leeches in his carry-on, Environment Canada announced Monday in a release.
With the help of Dr. Sebastian Kvist, Curator of Invertebrate Zoology at the Royal Ontario Museum, they identified the leeches as Hirudo verbana, one of only two species of medicinal leech that are subject to regulations aimed at controlling wildlife trade.
Last Friday, Ippolit Bodounov of Niagara Falls, Ont., was fined $15,000, had to forfeit the animals to authorities, and is prohibited from importing, exporting and possessing any endangered flora and fauna for one year.
On May 24, Bodounov was charged for the unlawful import of a regulated species and is prohibited from importing, exporting and possessing any CITES-regulated animals for one year.
(Dr. Kvist, Curator identified the live leeches that were unlawfully imported into Canada. Courtesy of Environment & Climate Change )
A Niagara Falls, Ont., man has been fined $15,000 after he was caught flying into Canada with a suitcase full of leeches.
Ippolit Bodounov tried to smuggle 4,788 live, medicinal leeches in his carry-on luggage on Oct. 17, according to Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC). He'd just flown from Russia to Toronto's Pearson International Airport.
Bodounov carried the leeches in a large reusable grocery bag, said Gerry Brunet, operations manager of ECCC's wildlife enforcement directorate, based in Burlington, Ont. Within that bag were 10 smaller, dampened cloth bags.
"This is our first large-scale illegal leech import," he said, though the ministry sees a lot of illegally imported reptiles, turtles, tortoises and snakes.
The ministry sent the leeches to the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, where Sebastian Kvist, curator of invertebrate zoology, identified them as hirudo verbana, a threatened medicinal leech.
About 240 were then sent to the American Museum of Natural History in New York, where DNA sequencing of their stomach contents and found they were caught in the wild.
People have been harvesting the breed for medicinal purposes since medieval times, Kvist said. "New age medicine" practitioners use them for everything from lessening arthritis pain to preventing baldness, he said, although there's no scientific proof that this works.
The only proven use of leeches in medicine, he said, is to stimulate blood flow in reattached fingers and toes. In some cases, they also deter strokes. Medicinal leeches sell for between $8 and $20 per leech, he said.
Not only are they threatened, and unregulated, but they're an invasive species too. Kvist said some leech populations exclusive to Europe have been found in Alberta because people drop them in local lakes when they're done with them.
Bodounov pleaded guilty on May 24 to violating the Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act.
He was fined, and also 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.
Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She has a particular interest in politics and social justice stories, and tweets live from Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at [email protected]
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