Montana Man’s Plan To Breed Giant Hybrid Frankensheep Lands Him In Trouble

A wild criminal case has unfolded in Montana involving an 80-year-old rancher, illegal insemination, cloned animals, forgery, trophy hunting, and the dream of creating a huge hybrid sheep.

Arthur “Jack” Schubarth, the owner of an 87-hectare (215-acre) ranch in Montana, was the mastermind of a money-making scheme that created giant sheep hybrids with the hope of selling them to captive hunting facilities, according to a statement from the US Department of Justice.

Schubarth took body parts of the world’s largest sheep subspecies in the world, the Marco Polo sheep (Ovis ammon polii), from their native Kyrgyzstan and trafficked them into the US without declaring them to authorities. 

This subspecies of argali sheep can weigh over 136 kilograms (300 pounds) and possess horns that span more than 1.5 meters (5 feet), making them an alluring target for trophy hunters. They’re protected by several wildlife protection laws and they’re banned in the State of Montana to protect native sheep populations.

The canny rancher sent genetic material from the Marco Polo sheep body parts to a lab to create cloned embryos. The embryos were implanted in ewes on his ranch, producing male offspring that he called “Montana Mountain King” or MMK. MMK semen was then used to artificially impregnate several other species of ewes, which were also prohibited in Montana, to create hybrid sheep.

At least five other people were involved in the ploy between 2013 and 2021. To pull it off, Schubarth and his conspirators forged several veterinary certificates to lie about the sheep species. He also illegally obtained genetic material from Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep that were hunted in the wild around Montana.

Schubarth’s scheming violated the Lacey Act, a conservation law that combats the illegal trafficking of wildlife. It effectively aims to regulate the introduction of non-native species to places where they have never existed before. 

On March 12, he pled guilty to two felony wildlife crimes: a conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act and substantively violating the Lacey Act. Each count carries a maximum penalty of five years’ jail time and a $250,000 fine. Schubarth is set to be sentenced on July 11, 2024.

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

“The kind of crime we uncovered here could threaten the integrity of our wildlife species in Montana. This was a complex case and the partnership between us and U.S Fish and Wildlife Service was critical in solving it,” added Ron Howell, Chief of Enforcement for Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks.

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