Flight Passenger Fined $15,000 for Carrying Thousands of Leeches in Carry-On Luggage

May 29, 2019 Updated: May 29, 2019

A man from Niagara Falls, Canada is paying a hefty price after trying to import thousands of leeches by air in his carry-on luggage.

The Ontario Court of Justice fined Ippolit Bodounov C$15,000 (US$11,120) on May 24 after he was caught trying to wheel 5,000 live leeches from Russia into Toronto’s Pearson International Airport back in October 2018.

Bodounov pleaded guilty to violating the Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act, which enforces the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in Canada.

CITES is an international treaty that regulates the international trade of endangered and threatened species of animals and plants. More than 180 countries, including Canada, have signed the Convention.

Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) confirmed Royal Ontario Museum Curator of Invertebrate Zoology Dr. Sebastian Kvist helped identify a small quantity of the leeches as hirudo verbana, one of two species subject to regulations to control the wildlife trade.

“DNA sequencing of the gut contents of approximately 240 leech specimens was carried out by the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Results suggested that, of those tested, all of the leeches originated in the wild,” ECCC said in a public statement. “These species are regulated because over-harvesting of medicinal leeches from the wild is a major threat to the species.”

Medicinal leeches were some of the first species subject to conservation protection through export limits since as far back as the year 1823. Leech saliva, which contains anti-coagulative or blood-thinning properties, helped achieve the first positive results of human dialysis treatments.

Bodounov was charged with unlawfully importing a regulated species, and since he did not have a permit to import medicinal leeches, he was ordered to surrender them. He will also be prohibited from importing, exporting, and possessing any CITES-regulated animals for the next 12 months.

ECCC reported the money will be used towards the Government of Canada’s Environmental Damages Fund, which helps pay for priority projects that benefit the natural environment. It also estimates illegal trade in wildlife, which threatens many of the world’s most treasured wildlife species, could be worth up to US$20 billion a year.

“Canada does not tolerate the exploitation of threatened species for profit,” ECCC said. “ECCC’s enforcement officers strive to ensure that businesses and individuals comply with federal environmental laws and regulations that protect regulated species.”

Anyone can report wildlife crimes anonymously by phoning Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477. Rewards of up to $2,000 are offered.