On 12th March 2024, Arthur “Jack” Schubarth pleaded guilty before a federal judge in Great Falls, Montana, US, to conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act and substantively violating the Lacey Act, by trying for almost a decade to create giant sheep hybrids to sell to hunting facilities.

Schubarth is the owner and operator of Sun River Enterprises LLC (Schubarth Ranch), an “alternative livestock” ranch. According to the US Department of Justice (DOJ), he conspired with at least five other individuals between 2013 and 2021 to genetically engineer a larger hybrid sheep species that would fetch higher prices from shooting preserves. 

The DOJ said that Schubarth imported from Kyrgyzstan parts of Marco Polo argali sheep, the largest sheep species in the world, without declaring the importation, and he sent its genetic material to a lab to create cloned embryos, which he then implanted in a female sheep on his ranch. The result was a new breed he called “Montana Mountain King,” or MMK. He then used MMK’s semen to artificially impregnate various species of female sheep.

Schubarth wanted to sell the larger and “more valuable” genetically modified hybrid sheep to captive hunting facilities in Texas and other states, and according to  DOJ, he “forged veterinary inspection certificates, falsely claiming that the sheep were legally permitted species.” 

Todd Kim, Assistant Attorney General, said to ABC, “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.” Ron Howell, Chief of Enforcement for Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP), said, “The kind of crime we uncovered here could threaten the integrity of our wildlife species in Montana.”

Schubarth could get a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 for each count. What is interesting in this case is that genetically engineering domestic sheep to make them bigger or produce more wool has been a common practice by the animal agricultural industry in the US and many other countries, as it was done through artificial selection for generations, and yet, that has been legal as domestic sheep are not legally protected as wild sheep are. 

“Originally from Catalonia, but resident in the UK for several decades, Jordi is a vegan zoologist and author, who has been involved in different aspects of animal protection for many years. In addition to scientific research, he has worked mostly as an undercover investigator, animal welfare consultant, and animal protection campaigner. He has been an ethical vegan since 2002, and in 2020 he secured the legal protection of all ethical vegans in Great Britain from discrimination in a landmark employment tribunal case that was discussed all over the world. He is also the author of the book, ‘Ethical Vegan: a personal and political journey to change the world’.