Staff at busy airports see their fair share of intriguing passengers and luggage contents. When Ippolit Bodounov touched down at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, he figured he would clear security. After returning from a trip to Russia, sniffer dogs and border security were in for a rude surprise. Inside Mr. Bodounov’s luggage, nearly 5,000 endangered leeches threatened to enter the country illegally. Usually, airport security often detains passengers for smuggling drugs. Curiously enough, Ippolit was attempting a large scale illegal import of leeches.
Big Squirmy Deal
Ontario-native, Ippolit Bodounov was a confident passenger returning from an overseas trip. After making his way successfully through Russian customs agents, he figured going through Canadian customs would be a breeze. Ippolit was ready to deliver his papers to custom officials, but he wasn’t prepared to handle on-duty canines. Unknown to Ippolit, sniffer dogs aren’t only on high alert for drugs, but exotic animals of all types.
Everything would come crashing down with the bark of a sniffer dog. First one dog barked, then others joined, all focused on Ippolit’s bag. Immediately, border agents seized Mr. Bodounov’s luggage and examined the contents inside. When the luggage was opened, a large grocery bag containing ten separate bags were found. Each cloth bag was damp to the touch, heavily perfumed, and hiding something unusual. If it weren’t for sniffer dogs on patrol, border agent staff might have been duped by the devious passenger.
Protected Species Discovered
Ippolit Bodounov had perhaps made a historic first for Candian air travel. International passengers have been apprehended for smuggling animals like tortoises, snakes, and other exotic creatures. Ippolit’s luggage contained 4,788 wild-caught leeches. Discovering thousands of live leeches hidden in a suitcase may cause some to faint with horror, but there’s money to be made. Leeches have been prized for medicinal uses since the Middle Ages, and retail up to $20 Canadian per specimen.
Operations Manager for the wildlife enforcement directorate of the Environment and Climate Change Canada, Gerry Brunet, had this to say about the incident. “This is our first large-scale illegal leech import.” Mr. Bodounov was fined 15,000 Canadian dollars and was given a year-long ban on importing, possessing, or exporting regulated animals. Many of the leeches smuggled by Ippolit Bodounov were sent to Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum. About 240 leeches were delivered to New York’s American Museum of Natural History. Once the species of leeches were identified, there was even more fervor.
Leeches Under Threat
The wild leeches tucked inside wet cloth bags were no ordinary species. It was determined that the leeches were an endangered species, known as ‘Hirudo verbana.’ According to Toronto Museum curator, Sebastian Kvist, this type of leech is used for stimulating blood flow and deterring strokes. ‘Hirudo verbana’ leeches are one of two kinds of leeches that are regulated by wildlife laws because of over-harvesting in the wild. None of the leeches were harmed and survived their ordeal. When smugglers are unable to sell their trafficking victims successfully, they often get dumped. There has been an increase in European leeches like ‘Hirudo verbana’ species, discovered in local lakes, disrupting the ecosystem.
Online, various news outlets picked up the skin-crawling story, included Twitter and Reddit. Online one Twitter feed, user CausticComment responded, “Perhaps he was a #MrSardonicus fan?” Trafficking of animals is a looming problem within North America and around the world. Thanks to the actions of sniffer dogs and the agents at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, thousands of leeches avoided an unpredictable fate. Yes, Ippolit Bodounov was fined only a quarter of the street value of the leeches, but the poor creatures avoided entering Canadian waterways.
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