Rancher faces prison for trying to breed absolute unit of a sheep

Ewe-nique endeavor aimed to create Jurassic Baaa-rk experience for hunters

In a case that could have been lifted from a bad movie about a "mad scientist," a Montana rancher has pleaded guilty to wildlife trafficking charges in his quest to genetically engineer an ubersheep for hunting.

Arthur "Jack" Schubarth, 80, of Vaughn, Montana, runs Schubarth Ranch. The business purchases and breeds various ungulates, which are then sold to captive hunting operations – aka shooting sheep in a barrel.

But it appears Schubarth's "alternative livestock" weren't sexy enough. According to the Department of Justice, between 2013 and 2021 Schubarth embarked on a conspiracy to engineer a hybrid species of sheep that he believed could fetch a higher price from shooting preserves.

He is accused of shipping parts of the largest sheep in the world, Marco Polo argali (Ovis ammon polii), from Kyrgyzstan into the US without declaring the importation. Average males can weigh more than 300 pounds with horns that span more than five feet, an "absolute unit" in layman's terms.

However, they are also protected internationally by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, domestically by the US Endangered Species Act, and are prohibited in the State of Montana to protect native sheep from disease and hybridization.

Schubarth sent genetic material from the sheep parts to a lab that created cloned embryos. The embryos were then implanted into ewes on Schubarth Ranch, which resulted in a single, genetically pure male Marco Polo argali that Schubarth dubbed the "Montana Mountain King" or MMK.

Sperm was then taken from this gigasheep to artificially impregnate varying species of ewes on the ranch – all of which were prohibited in Montana, the DoJ says – to create hybrid Frankensheep.

But Schubarth's flock of felonies didn't end there. To shift the hybrids, he and his unnamed co-conspirators pulled wool over buyers' eyes with forged veterinary certificates claiming they were legal species. Schubarth also sold MMK juice to breeders in other states so they could raise sheepsquatches of their own.

"This was an audacious scheme to create massive hybrid sheep species to be sold and hunted as trophies," said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division. "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."

"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. "This was a complex case and the partnership between us and US Fish and Wildlife Service was critical in solving it."

For each felony count where Schubarth rammed through the law, he faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000, and three years of supervised release.

Probably feeling a bit sheepish now. ®

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