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Now, that’s just icky: Border agents seize boxes of blood-sucking leeches

<i>US Customs and Border Protection</i><br/>US Customs and Border Protection seized jars of protected leeches.
US Customs and Border Protection
US Customs and Border Protection
US Customs and Border Protection seized jars of protected leeches.

By Jay Croft, CNN

Customs and Border Protection officers in Philadelphia recently made a series of slimy discoveries — some 300 leeches sent from Bulgaria and bound for points across the US.

The bloodsuckers were busted as they came across in nine jars, over six air cargo shipments between February 19 and 25. They were destined for addresses in Connecticut, Florida and Illinois, according to a CBP news release.

Labels on the jars said they contained one species, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service identified them as Hirudo medicinalis, a species of leech used in medical bloodletting, the CBP said.

That’s a protected species that can’t be traded internationally, according to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

“Most species of leeches are not in danger of extinction. Only one species, the medicinal leech Hirudo medicinalis, has been given legal protection,” says BioKIDS, a science education program co-sponsored by the University of Michigan. “This species was found throughout Europe and western Asia, but has been so heavily collected for medical use and research that it is extinct in many parts of its range.”

CBP officers often seize unusual items “like this jar full of icky bloodsuckers,” said Joseph Martella, CBP’s Area Port Director in Philadelphia.

In January, they found a taxidermied bird being shipped from the United Kingdom to Quebec.

Last year’s seizures included crocodile skins from Sierra Leone and ivory from poached tusks of protected pachyderms (elephants, rhinos or hippos), the CBP release said.

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