Ontario man fined for smuggling medicinal leeches into Canada in carry-on luggage

News release

May 27, 2019 – Brampton, Ontario

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. Canada does not tolerate the exploitation of threatened species for profit. Environment and Climate Change Canada’s enforcement officers strive to ensure that businesses and individuals comply with federal environmental laws and regulations that protect regulated species.

On May 24, 2019 in the Ontario Court of Justice, Mr. Ippolit Bodounov of Niagara Falls, Ontario, pleaded guilty to violating the Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act (WAPPRIITA). This legislation implements the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in Canada.

Mr. Bodounov was fined $15,000, which will be directed towards the Government of Canada’s Environmental Damages Fund. In addition to the fine, Mr. Bodounov was required to forfeit the animals and is prohibited from importing, exporting and possessing any CITES-regulated animals for a period of one year.

On October 17, 2018, the Canada Border Services Agency notified Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Enforcement Branch that a passenger aboard a flight from Russia had arrived at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport with a large quantity of live leeches in his carry-on luggage. An enforcement officer detained the leeches to identify the species and determine if the import was lawful.

With assistance from Dr. Sebastian Kvist, Curator of Invertebrate Zoology at the Royal Ontario Museum, the leeches were identified as Hirudo verbana, one of only two species of medicinal leech that are subject to regulations aimed at controlling wildlife trade. These species are regulated because over-harvesting of medicinal leeches from the wild is a major threat to the species. 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. Mr. Bodounov had not obtained a permit to import medicinal leeches and was thus charged for the unlawful import of a regulated species.

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Quick facts

  • The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is an international treaty that protects endangered and threatened species of animals and plants from over-exploitation by regulating their international trade. More than 180 countries, including Canada, have signed the Convention.

  • The Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act prohibits the import, export and interprovincial transportation of these species, unless the specimens are accompanied by the appropriate documents (permit, certificate or written authorization). In all cases, the act applies to the plant or animal, alive or dead, as well as to its parts and any derived products.

  • Medicinal leeches represent one of the first animal species subject to conservation measures, including exportation restrictions, dating back to 1823.

  • Medicinal leech saliva, which contains anti-coagulative, or blood-thinning properties, was fundamental in the first positive results of human dialysis treatments.

  • Health Canada regulates medicinal leeches as drugs under the Food and Drugs Act.

  • The Environmental Damages Fund is administered by Environment and Climate Change Canada. It was created in 1995 as a way to direct funds received as a result of fines, court orders, and voluntary payments to priority projects that benefit our natural environment.

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