April 21, 2024

A Montana Ranchers illegally used tissue and testicles from wild sheep killed by hunters in Central Asia and the US to breed “giant” hybrid sheep for sale to private game reserves in Texas, according to court documents and federal prosecutors.

Arthur “Jack” Schubarth, 80, of Vaughn, Montana, pleaded guilty to wildlife trafficking and conspiracy to traffic wildlife charges during an appearance Tuesday before a federal judge in Great Falls.

Each charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Court documents describe a years-long conspiracy, which began in 2013, in which Schubarth and at least five other people tried to create “giant sheep hybrids” by crossing species. Their goal was to obtain high prices from hunting reserves where people shoot trophy game animals for a fee.

Using biological tissue obtained from a hunter who had killed a wild sheep in Kyrgyzstan that belonged to the world’s largest species of the animal — Marco Polo argali sheep — Schubarth cloned embryos from the animal, according to court documents. obtain a laboratory.

The embryos were later implanted into a ewe, resulting in a purebred Marco Polo argali sheep that Schubert named “Montana Mountain King,” the documents show.

Semen from Montana Mountain King was used to artificially inseminate other ewes to create a larger and more valuable species of sheep, including one offspring he agreed to sell to two people in Texas for $10,000, according to the documents.

Male argali sheep can exceed 300 pounds with horns up to 5 feet long, according to officials, making them prized among some hunters. They are protected as an endangered species under international convention and prohibited for import into Montana to protect native sheep from disease and hybridization.

A Rocky Mountain Bighorn sheep. Photo: Matt Dahlseid/AP

A person not named in court documents shipped 74 ewes of a banned sheep species from Minnesota to Schubarth’s farm to be artificially inseminated with Montana Mountain King’s semen, the documents show. Offspring that had only a portion of the Central Asian sheep’s genetics sold for lesser amounts.

In 2019, Schubarth paid a hunting guide $400 for testicles from a trophy-sized Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep killed in Montana. Schubarth extracted semen from the bighorn sheep’s testicles and used it to breed bighorn sheep and sheep crossed with the argali species, the documents show.

Assistant US Attorney General Todd Kim described Schubarth’s actions as “an audacious plan to create massive hybrid sheep species to be sold and hunted as trophies”. Kim said the defendant violated the Lacey Act, which restricts wildlife trade and prohibits the sale of falsely labeled game.

Schubarth said by phone Wednesday that his attorney advised him not to talk about the case.

“I would love to talk about it, but can’t right now,” he said.

His attorney, Jason Holden, did not immediately respond to phone messages seeking comment.

Authorities agreed under the terms of a plea agreement not to pursue further charges against the defendant pending his cooperation with the government’s ongoing investigation into the wildlife trafficking case.

Montana Mountain King is in the custody of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, according to Justice Department spokesman Matthew Nies. As part of the plea agreement, Schubert agreed to quarantine any other sheep containing Marco Polo argali genetics and any bighorn sheep harvested from the wild.

The agreement also allows federal wildlife officials to inspect and, if necessary, sterilize the animals.

Captive animal facilities where wildlife species can be raised and hunted were banned in Montana under a 2000 ballot initiative. But they remain legal in some other states.

Schubarth’s 215-acre farm is licensed by the state as an alternative livestock facility, said Greg Lemon, a spokesman for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. It was allowed to stay when the 2000 ballot initiative passed and continued to operate, although hunting was prohibited, Lemon said.

Sentencing for Schubarth is set for July 11 before U.S. District Judge Brian Morris.

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