The medical use of leeches was developed at the beginning of the 19th century thanks to the work of Doctor BROUSSAIS.
During the first few years, leeches were caught on the basis of demand, with fishermen only taking the number of animals required and those of standard size.
In 1839, faced with production problems, the Société d’encouragement pour l’industrie tried to encourage breeding programmes by offering subsidies. As a result, around forty competitors worked to master the art of hirudiniculture (or leech farming), but to no avail. Only one family of farmers from the Gironde region of Western France, the BECHADEs, would succeed, and they did so with the greatest discretion.
It was in 1835 that the BECHADEs overcame the main obstacle to successful hirudiniculture, namely how to feed leeches in such a way as to enable the conservation, reproduction and rapid growth of these worms. The farmers had realised thanks to a fortuitous combination of circumstances that leeches emerged when sick horses were being walked in the marshes, hence the idea of feeding the annelids with these animals.
By 1845, Mr BECHADE had launched a leech breeding and selling business in Bordeaux (Blanquefort natural marshland), based at 137, rue Ste Catherine. Numerous other leech traders had been created half a century before this since it was a flourishing business. Unlike his competitors though, who focused on the trading aspects of the business, Mr BECHADE soon understood the need for a farming operation and used livestock for this purpose.
In 1864, he found a high-quality successor in his son-in-law, Mr DEBEST. The company became DEBEST-BECHADE.
In 1901, the business was taken over by Mr RICARD who inherited it from his wife E BECHADE. The company then became RICARD-DEBEST-BECHADE and the breeding tanks were installed in AUDENGE. Business was booming, supported by the development of a transport infrastructure that meant they could be shipped greater distances.
In 1907, the business was taken over by Mr DESBARAX.
In 1945, his son took over from him. The name RICARD-DEBEST-BECHADE was kept until 1960 when it became RICARIMPEX (the company’s telegraphic address at the time).
Between 1939 and 1975, a large number of leech traders went out of business.
In 1975, Professors BAUDET and MICHELET from Bordeaux Teaching Hospital started using leeches once again. Since then, live leeches have been used mainly in plastic and reconstructive surgery, for graft revisions, and in traumatology.
In 1993, RICARIMPEX was taken over by B. LATRILLE as an individual farming operation. Leeches have not been sold in pharmacies to individuals since 1993. Hospitals and clinics continue to use them on a regular basis in micro-surgery. RICARIMPEX has developed its export sales considerably, particularly to the United States where its distributor has increased the number of units sold from 25,000 per year in 1992 to 95,000 today. The company has frequent contact with other leech farmers throughout the world, particularly in Wales, Germany and Russia.
By 2001, RICARIMPEX had changed its status to a Simplified Joint-Stock Company (SAS) and it set up a breeding laboratory with a view to intensifying and controlling its production.
In 2002, RICARIMPEX obtained AFAQ accreditation for ISO 9001, and this was followed in May 2004 by approval par 510(k) clearance.