Man Pleads Guilty to Trying to Clone Giant Sheep

Sheepy Situation

The Marco Polo argali sheep is the biggest sheep in the world. These creatures, native to Central Asia, can weigh up to 300 pounds, and they sport on their heads massive, heavy spiraling horns that can span as much as 70 inches.

Now imagine a sheep even bigger than that — the Big Boss of Sheep if you will — roaming the wilds of North America.

One Montana man, Arthur "Jack" Schubarth, was set on just that vision: creating a giant hybrid sheep for big game hunting, by using cloned embryos of Marco Polo argali and selectively breeding with other sheep on his ranch. But he ewe a little too close to the Sun, CBS News reports, because his actions violated international and federal wildlife laws.

On Tuesday, Schubarth pleaded guilty to two felony charges on wildlife trafficking and conspiracy to commit wildlife trafficking, according to the feds. In total, he potentially faces a maximum of five years in prison for each count and a $250,000 fine.

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

Sheep Scheme

Schubarth's Doctor Moreau-like machinations started in 2013, according to authorities, with the help of several unnamed conspirators.

Schubarth imported biological tissue of the Marco Polo argali sheep from Central Asia without declaring it, and had the tissue sent to a lab in order to create cloned embryos.

He then implanted these cloned embryos into ewes, which gave birth to male Marco Polo argali sheep.

From there, on his 215-acre ranch in Montana, he selectively bred the sheep with ewes from other species in order to create hybrid sheep bigger than the original Marco Polo argali.

In the midst of the scheme, he also sold sperm from Marco Polo argali sheep to others, illegally obtained biological tissue from wild Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep in Montana, and forged documents relating to the Marco Polo argali sheep.

The danger with his giant hybrid sheep is they could potentially escape and breed with wild sheep in Montana, perhaps leading to the creation of invasive and fearsome giant sheep — kind of like those super pigs wreaking environmental havoc in Canada.

And as funny as giant sheep sound, they would be terrible for the native wildlife.

More on cloning: How Close Are We to Successfully Cloning the First Human?