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Montana Rancher cloning Marco Polo sheep

The Marco Polo sheep, also known as the Argali sheep, is the largest species of wild sheep. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Inertia

An 80-year-old Montana rancher is facing criminal charges after it was discovered that he illegally created giant sheep hybrids with the intention of selling them to hunting outfits.

“Arthur “Jack” Schubarth, 80, of Vaughn, Montana, is the owner and operator of Sun River Enterprises LLC – also known as Schubarth Ranch – which is a 215-acre alternative livestock ranch in Vaughn,” the U.S. Department of Justice wrote in a release. “The Schubarth Ranch is engaged in the purchase, sale and breeding of ‘alternative livestock’ such as mountain sheep, mountain goats and various ungulates. The primary market for Schubarth’s livestock is captive hunting operations, also known as shooting preserves or game ranches.”

Schubarth used body parts from a huge subspecies of sheep called the Marco Polo sheep. That species is native to Kyrgyzstan and can grow to over 300 pounds with horns growing to five feet in width. Those horns are what make them so attractive to hunters, but the state of Montana banned them in an attempt to protect the native sheep populations.

Schubarth trafficked the sheep parts into the U.S. illegally, without reporting them to the necessary authorities, then sent them to a lab to make cloned embryos. Those were then implanted into some of his ewes, which resulted in a strain of sheep Schubarth named the “Montana Mountain King” or MMK. Semen from the MMK sheep was then used to impregnate other species of ewes, creating a hybrid sheep far larger than the ones native to Montana.

“Court documents explain that Schubarth worked with the other unnamed coconspirators to use MMK’s semen to artificially impregnate various other species of ewes – all of which were prohibited in Montana – and create hybrid animals,” the U.S. Department of Justice continued. “Their goal was to create a larger and more valuable species of sheep to sell to captive hunting facilities, primarily in Texas.”

There were at least five other people involved in the scheme, which took place between 2013 and 2021. Schubarth, along with the others, forged veterinary documents pertaining to the species of sheep, and also were able to get their hands on illegally obtained genetic material from Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep.

“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 (ENRD). “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.”

It’s not the type of crime that wildlife officials take lightly.

“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 (FWP). “This was a complex case and the partnership between us and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was critical in solving it.”

Schubarth faces a multitude of felony counts, each of which comes with a maximum penalty of five years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000 and three years of supervised release. He’s scheduled to hear his sentence on July 11.


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