Traveler fined $15,000 for smuggling thousands of live leeches into Canadian airport

A traveler who was caught with nearly 5,000 leeches in his luggage has been fined $15,000 for attempting to smuggle his live cargo into Canada.

The traveler, identified as Ippolit Bodounov from Niagara Falls, Ontario, had flown into Toronto Pearson International Airport from Russia in October 2018, carrying the 4,788 leeches in his carry-on bag.

Officials later determined the leeches to be a species of regulated medicinal leeches, per a news release from the Environment and Climate Change Canada.

Officials found the live leeches wrapped inside wet cloths that were stored inside a shopping bag.

Officials found the live leeches wrapped inside wet cloths that were stored inside a shopping bag. (Environment and Climate Change Canada)

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On May 24, Bodounov pleaded guilty to violating Canada’s Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act at an Ontario court. He was sentenced to pay a $15,000 fine, which will be appropriated toward the Government of Canada’s Environmental Damages Fund.

Budounov is also banned from importing, exporting or owning any animals protected under the international Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) agreement for a period of one year.

Budounov had originally flown into Toronto’s Pearson International Airport on Oct. 17, where a trained dog sniffed out the leeches in his bag, the CBC reports.

Officials found the live leeches wrapped inside wet cloths that were stored inside a shopping bag.

The leeches were confiscated and later identified as Hirudo verbena – a species valued for its medicinal anti-coagulative properties – by an expert at the Royal Ontario Museum. A sample of the leeches was also sent to the American Museum of Natural History in New York, where tests determined that the leeches were harvested in the wild, per the news release.

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Bodounov reportedly told airport officials the leeches were for his personal use and that the leeches’ waste water would enrich his flowers. However, Andre Lupert, of the Wildlife Enforcement Directorate at Environment and Climate Change Canada, remained skeptical.

“This sort of leech quantity would suggest it was for commercialization,” one official told National Geographic earlier this year.

Lupert told the outlet that some people use leeches as a form of naturopathic medicine, believing the leeches relieve the pain or cleanse the body of so-called “bad” blood.

Leeches have, however, been legitimately used to stimulate blood flow via the anti-coagulant properties of their saliva, in such cases where human digits need reattachment, the CBC reports.

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

— Environment and Climate Change Canada

An expert at the Royal Ontario Museum confirmed that the kind of leech Bodounov was carrying could fetch up to $20 each on the black market.

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“Illegal trade in wildlife is estimated to be worth up to $20 billion USD per year and threatens many of the world’s most treasured wildlife species,” Environment and Climate Change Canada wrote in its news release.

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