The medicinal leech, Hirudo medicinalis, is a reliable and sensitive indicator of environmental quality and, in particular, of the purity of the water in which it lives. In fact, the almost total disappearance of leeches at the end of the 19th century cannot simply be explained by their extensive use and the gradual disappearance of marshland cattle herds. It is also directly related to damage to their habitat, through drainage of marshlands to improve health and urbanise country areas, and also as a result of pollution. Today, Hirudo medicinalis remains very rare in France but persists in Turkey, Ukraine, Serbia and Croatia, etc.
Faced with the threat of their total eradication, national, European and international measures were introduced with respect to their trade, import and export. Some measures are even aimed at protecting their habitat.
Through its partnership with the Centre Jean Rostand and the creation of the Fédération Internationale pour la Protection et la Promotion de la Sangsue médicinale: Hirudo medicinalis (International Federation for the Protection and Promotion of Medical Leeches), RICARIMPEX is committed to going beyond the regulations in place to protect the precious annelid and promote the preservation of its environment.
On an international level
The Convention on international trade in endangered species, known by its acronym CITES or the Washington Convention, is an international agreement between States. It aims to ensure that international trade in wild animal and plant species does not endanger the survival of the species to which they belong. It is the most important global agreement for the protection of living species, with 128 signatory countries currently.
Listed in annex II of this convention, a permit is required to transport the medicinal leech Hirudo medicinalis outside of Europe, enabling its trade to be controlled.
On a European level
The 1982 Bern Convention on the conservation of European wildlife and natural habitats includes leeches in annex III, which concerns medicinal leeches, specifying the regulations for trading in the species.
Annex V of the Directive of May 1992, which includes the medicinal leech, provides a list of species for which their harvesting from nature is regulated. It aims to guarantee the conservation of natural wildlife habitats and maintain biodiversity.
On a French national level
The law relative to the protection of nature has been an integral part of the rural code since 1995.
It lays down the basic principles for the protection of nature, providing the means to protect species and animals. In particular, it prohibits the introduction of non-indigenous species into the natural environment. It makes the production, keeping, sale, use, transport, import and export of specimens of species threatened with extinction in whole or in part and their products subject to authorisation.
An educational Centre and a Federation
For its part, RICARIMPEX endeavours to protect the leech and its habitat.
Consequently, control of the environment and protection of breeding zones are a priority for the company.
The second breeding site was chosen on the basis of its geographic location (in the past, medicinal leeches proliferated in the Landes region of France) and the quality of the facilities at the Centre. The Centre Jean ROSTAND constitutes a unique and intact biotope covering several hectares of ponds and heath land. The purpose of this site, created at the instigation of the biologist Jean ROSTAND, is to encourage an interest in natural sciences in young people and awaken an “ecological conscience” in them so that they can become informed protectors of nature.
RICARIMPEX promotes the preservation of natural conditions in its leech breeding process. The pools are maintained manually, with no pesticides or herbicides used. If the vegetation becomes too abundant, only biological treatments are used.
RICARIMPEX created the Fédération Internationale pour la protection et la promotion de la sangsue médicinale : Hirudo medicinalis (International Federation for the Protection and Promotion of Medical Leeches) (published in the French Official Gazette of 31 July 2004), which has some twenty members today.
This association has the following objectives :
- bring together international specialists: breeders, producers, doctors, surgeons, pharmacists, scientists, all concerned by medicinal leeches and their many qualities,
- contribute to the protection of this endangered species, particularly due to pollution
- promote information, training and cooperation between global specialists or parties interested in this extraordinary source of healthcare products, used empirically for centuries and for which the scientific and medical benefits have been confirmed by the most recent research,
- to act as a point of contact for all those wanting to know more about the conditions in which they are used and the associated rules, particularly in terms of regulatory issues.