Rancher Guilty in Plot to Create 'Massive Hybrid Sheep Species'

Sheep parts were illegally imported from central Asia
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 13, 2024 12:43 PM CDT
Rancher Guilty in Plot to Create 'Massive Hybrid Sheep Species'
Young Marco Polo sheep in Kyrgyzstan.   (Getty Images)

An 80-year-old Montana man has pleaded guilty to two felonies in what federal prosecutors describe as an "audacious scheme to create massive hybrid sheep species to be sold and hunted as trophies." Prosecutors say that in a plot that began more than a decade ago, Arthur "Jack" Schubarth illegally imported sheep parts from central Asia to launch a cloning operation, Gizmodo reports. A lab used the parts from Kyrgyzstan to create cloned embryos of Marco Polo argali sheep, which are protected under endangered species laws and prohibited in Montana. The mountain sheep are the largest in the world, and "average males can weigh more than 300 pounds with horns that span more than five feet," the Department of Justice said in a news release.

Schubarth owns a 215-acre ranch stocked with "alternative livestock" he sells to shooting preserves and game ranches. He implanted the embryos in ewes on his ranch, resulting in a single, pure genetic male Marco Polo argali that he named "Montana Mountain King" or MMK, the DOJ said. He used MMK's sperm to artificially inseminate ewes from an assortment of sheep species and sold some of it directly to breeders, prosecutors said. He pleaded guilty to violating the Lacey Act and conspiring to violate the act, which was introduced to combat the trafficking of illegally taken wildlife.

"The kind of crime we uncovered here could threaten the integrity of our wildlife species in Montana," said Ron Howell, Chief of Enforcement for Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks. Prosecutors say Schubarth and co-conspirators forged paperwork to move the illegal hybrid sheep from state to state. Schubarth will be sentenced in July. He faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 on each count, KRTV reports. (More sheep stories.)

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