A passenger has been fined US$11,000 for attempting to smuggle nearly 5,000 live leeches onto a flight.

The man arrived at Toronto Airport with the leeches in his hand luggage, said prosecutors.

He was arrested after sniffer dogs picked up the scent.

The leeches were of the Hirudo verbena variety, which is one of two species of medicinal leeches which require a permit for importation as they are protected due to over-harvesting from the wild.

The man, who lives in Niagara Falls, Ontario, pleaded guilty to the offence under the Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act.