Engineered Sheep on the Cheap

By Gayne C. Young

One of the first friends I made when I moved to Fredericksburg, Texas was a big game hunter who lived in the neighboring town of Kerrville. We’ll call him Ted. Ted was considerably older than me, was far more successful than me financially, and had hunted all over the world. He was also a pioneer in the home video market and filmed his hunts for distribution worldwide. I always enjoyed watching his videos and occasionally was treated to being shown video before it was edited into what the public would eventually see. Such was the case with his hunt to Tajikistan.

“That’s me,” Ted said as we watched the footage one night. “We’re at 14,200 feet above sea level. I can’t breathe, the air is so thin. I was so weak my guide had to carry my rifle. I couldn’t lift it. And it was like a zillion degrees below zero.”

I continued watching the video then told Ted that the experience looked absolutely horrid. I said that I admired his determination and resolve on other hunts but saw nothing but misery and the taunting of death on his trip to the top of the world. 

“If you want to take a Marco Polo sheep you’ve got to go where there’s a Marco Polo sheep and that’s where they are,” Ted explained.

Circumventing this fact—and lessening the considerable finances involved—may be the reason why a Montana man just plead guilty to one count of conspiracy and one count of trafficking in violation of the Lacey Act.

According to the Daily Montanan, Arthur “Jack” Schubarth was charged in early February “with federal conspiracy and trafficking for illegally cloning, breeding and selling large-horned sheep native to Asia, their hybrid offspring, and DNA to game farms and livestock breeders in other states.” This all stems from an endeavor that began in January 2013 and ended in October 2022.

A subspecies of argali sheep, Marco Polo sheep (Ovis ammon polii) are huge animals. They reach weights upward of 300 pounds and carry the largest horns of any wild sheep on Earth. The world record Marco Polo sheep carried more than six feet of spiral horn upon his head. This species is found in the rugged mountains of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and China and hunting one is both dangerous and expensive. The pursuit is extremely physically risky as they literally live on the top of the world in some of the harshest locations, both environmentally and politically. The cost of even attempting to hunt one is astronomical; most hunts start in the six figures.

In 2013, Schubarth obtained part of a dead Marco Polo sheep that was killed in Kyrgyzstan and illegally imported it into the U.S. He stored the body for two years before putting down around $4,200 to have it cloned. In November 2016, Schubarth received 165 cloned embryos.Half a year later, a male sheep was born from one of those embryos. Schubarth called this animal “Montana Mountain King.” The next year, Schubarth began harvesting semen from MMK to artificially inseminate other sheep to create hybrid sheep and began shipping straws of his semen to a person in Texas. That same year, an individual brought 26 sheep to Schubarth’s ranch to be inseminated. Over the next few years Schubarth added more clients to his illegal breeding operations. In 2020 he agreed to sell MMK’s sons and 11 sheep that had one-quarter of his genetics for $23,000 to two people in Texas. As Marco Polo sheep are listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act in the U.S. and an Appendix II animal under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), all of these dealings were highly illegal. According to the aforementioned protections, neither the animal nor any of its parts can be traded. Not only did Schubarth violate those terms but he used some of those parts to create and then sell what he labeled as “hybrid Rocky Mountain ewes.” The plea agreement Schubarth entered states that the fair market value for everything he exchanged with other buyers and sellers was worth between $250,000 and $550,000. Under his plea deal, Schubarth will pay a fine to the Lacey Act Reward Fund and a community service payment to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. He’s also looking at jail time.

The bottom line here is this man broke a ton of laws to Frankenstein-produce a sheep that looks like the monster that only a handful of people in the world can afford or dare to hunt. The law and I disagree on this. Afterall, I think Ted said it best: “If you want to take a Marco Polo sheep you’ve got to go where there’s a Marco Polo sheep and that’s where they are.”

From the FE Films Archive

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