An Ontario man is facing a $15,000 fine after he tried to smuggle thousands of medicinal leeches from Russia into Canada last year.
Niagara Falls-native Ippolit Bodounov appeared before the Ontario Court of Justice on Friday to plead guilty to violating Canada's Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act.
The WAPPRIITA is used in the country to implement restrictions outlined in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
CITES is an international agreement aimed at protecting endangered and threatened animal and plant species from over-exploitation through illegal wildlife trade. The treaty was signed by more than 180 nations, including Canada.
Bodounov's $15,000 fine will be directed toward the Canadian government's Environmental Damages Fund. The fund was established back in 1995 as a means to direct fines, court orders, and voluntary payments to government projects that help protect the country's natural environment.
The court also required Bodounov to forfeit the medical leeches that he brought with him and prohibited him from importing, exporting, and possessing animals regulated under CITES for an entire year.
Smuggling Thousands Of Medical Leeches Into Canada
Bodounov tried to bring a bag full of live leeches into Canada through the Pearson International Airport in Toronto on Oct. 17, 2018. However, he was stopped by airport authorities for suspicion of smuggling illegal wildlife into the country.
The Canada Border Services Agency notified the enforcement branch of the Environment and Climate Change Canada about Bodounov's luggage. The traveler had to surrender his bag to authorities. It was later discovered that he was carrying as many as 4,788 leeches.
Dr. Sebastian Kvist, curator of invertebrate zoology at the Royal Ontario Museum, was brought in by the ECCC to help identify the species of leeches confiscated from Bodounov.
It was later discovered that the creatures were Hirudo verbana, one of only two medical leech species subject to regulations to help control wildlife trade. These creatures are regulated by the government to protect them from the threat of overharvesting.
Medical leeches are often harvested for their saliva, which has anti-coagulative, or blood-thinning properties. The saliva proved to be instrumental in producing the first positive results involving human dialysis treatments.
Researchers from the American Museum of Natural History conducted a DNA test on some of Bodounov's leeches. They found that all of those tested originated in the wild.
Bodounov did not have any permits to import medical leeches into Canada and was charged with smuggling a regulated species.
Help Prevent Illegal Wildlife Trade
The ECCC offers a free subscription service to let people in Canada know about the government's efforts to protect the natural environment.
The agency also urges Canadians to call its Crime Stoppers hotline at 1-800-222-8477 (TIPS) to anonymously report violations to wildlife protection laws. Those who will do so will be eligible to receive a reward of up to $2,000 provided by Crime Stoppers.
Illegal wildlife trade remains a lucrative business for smugglers, with an estimated worth of about $20 billion annually, according to the ECCC.