U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers came face to face with nine jars of slimy bloodsuckers recently in Philadelphia and closed the lid on these packaged prohibited parasites.
All nine plastic jars arrived in a combined six air cargo shipments from Bulgaria between February 19 and February 25 and were destined to addresses in Connecticut, Florida, and Illinois.
Labels on each of the jars identified the slimy critters as Hirudo Orientalis. Instead, after CBP officers sent photos of the leeches to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) inspector, the inspector identified the species as Hirudo Medicinalis, a species of leech used in medical bloodletting treatments. In total, the jars contained about 300 leeches.
The USFWS inspector determined that the shipments violated the U.S. Endangered Species Act [16USC1538], which prohibits the unlicensed possession, trade, import and export of protected species of wildlife or wildlife products.
Additionally, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), Appendix II strictly regulates the international trade of specimens of wild animals and plants to ensure species survival.
CBP officers completed the last seizures on Thursday and turned them over to USFWS agents.
“Customs and Border Protection officers and agriculture specialists often encounter unique and interesting things, like this jar full of icky bloodsuckers, while inspecting goods being imported to the United States,” said Joseph Martella, CBP’s Area Port Director in Philadelphia. “CBP officers remain committed to collaborating with federal, state and local law enforcement partners to intercept shipments that violate our nation’s laws and potentially threaten harm to our nation’s citizens and our economy.”
Seizing wildlife and wildlife products is nothing new for Philadelphia CBP officers.
On January 25, CBP officers encountered a taxidermied bird in a display case labeled as an Little Auk bird, which is indigenous to the Artic and North Atlantic oceans, and the Bering Sea. The specimen was being shipped from Hull, U.K. to and address in Quebec, Canada.
And late last year, CBP officers seized protected crocodile skins from Sierra Leone, a taxidermied Little Ring Plover that violated the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (16 USC 703-712), and ivory products produced from poached tusks of protected pachyderms.
CBP officers often work closely with USFWS inspectors. Wildlife inspectors are responsible for ensuring that all wildlife shipments imported to and exported from the United States comply with federal wildlife protection laws and international wildlife protections.