Environment

Montana Man Pleads Guilty to Creating Massive Franken-Sheep With Cloned Animal Parts

Written by teobrito.com

An 80-year-old man in Montana pleaded guilty Tuesday to two felony wildlife crimes involving his plan to let paying customers hunt sheep on private ranches. But these weren’t just any old sheep. They were “massive hybrid sheep” created by illegally importing animal parts from central Asia, cloning the sheep, and then breeding an enormous hybrid species.

Arthur “Jack” Schubarth, 80, owns and operates the 215-acre “alternative livestock” ranch in Vaughn, Montana where he started this operation in 2013, according to a press release from the U.S. Department of Justice. Alternative livestock includes hybrids of mountain sheep, mountain goats and other large mammals which are often used for trophy hunting by wealthy people.

An unnamed accomplice of Schubart kicked off the decade-long scheme by illegally bringing biological tissue from a Marco Polo sheep, the largest sheep in the world, from Kyrgyzstan into the U.S. in 2013, according to prosecutors.

How big are these sheep? An average male can weight over 300 pounds with horns over 5 feet wide, the largest sheep horns anywhere on the planet. The sheep are endangered and protected by both international treaties and U.S. law. Montana also forbids the import of these foreign sheep or their parts in an effort to protect local American sheep from disease.

Once Schubart had smuggled his sheep parts into the U.S., he sent them to an unnamed lab which created 165 cloned embryos, according to the DOJ.

“Schubarth then 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,” federal authorities wrote in a press release.

By the time Schubart had his Montana Mountain King he used the cloned sheep’s semen to artificially impregnate female sheep, creating hybrid animals. The goal, as the DOJ explains it, was to create these massive new sheep that could then be used for sports hunting on large ranches. Schubart also forged veterinarian inspection certificates to transport the new hybrid sheep under false pretenses, and sometimes even sold semen from his Montana Mountain King to other breeders in the U.S.

Schubart sent 15 artificially inseminated sheep to Minnesota in 2018 and sold 37 straws of Montana Mountain King’s semen to someone in Texas, according to an indictment filed last month. Schubart also offered to sell an offspring of the Montana Mountain King, dubbed the Montana Black Magic, to someone in Texas for $10,000.

Discussions between Schubart and an unnamed person apparently included what to call this new breed of sheep they were creating. The other person said another co-conspirator had suggested the name “Black Argali,” though noting “we can’t,” presumably because it would give away the fact that these sheep were descended from the argali species.

Schubart pleaded guilty to violating the Lacey Act, and conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act, which makes it a crime to acquire, transport or sell wildlife in contravention of federal law.

“This was an audacious scheme to create massive hybrid sheep species to be sold and hunted as trophies,” assistant Attorney General Todd Kim from the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division said in a press release.

“In pursuit of this scheme, Schubarth violated international law and the Lacey Act, both of which protect the viability and health of native populations of animals,” Kim continued.

Schubart conspired with at least five other people who are not named in the indictment. Schubarth faces up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 and is scheduled to be sentenced by Chief U.S. District Court Judge Brian M. Morris for the District of Montana in July.

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