The Telegraph 2024-03-15 10:00:37


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Farmer faces jail for breeding ‘massive mutant sheep’

A farmer has been caught illegally breeding “massive” mutant sheep to sell to private hunting reserves for up to $10,000, a court in Montana heard.

Arthur “Jack” Schubarth, 80, who owns a 215-acre ranch in Vaughn, Montana, pleaded guilty to criminal charges of wildlife trafficking and conspiracy to traffic wildlife at a court in Great Falls on Tuesday.

Prosecutors say he illegally used tissue and testicles from wild sheep killed by hunters in Central Asia, and the US, to breed hybrid sheep for sale.

According to court documents, Schubarth conspired with at least five other people between 2013 and 2021 to create a larger hybrid species of sheep that would generate high prices from shooting reserves, where people pay to hunt captive trophy game animals.

Schubarth’s ranch specialises in the purchase, sale and breeding of “alternative livestock” such as mountain sheep, mountain goats and various ungulates, according to prosecutors.

They claimed that Schubarth secretly brought parts of the largest sheep in the world, the Marco Polo argali sheep from Kyrgyzstan, into America.

Marco Polo males, which are native to the mountains of the Pamir region of Central Asia, can weigh more than 22 stone with horns that span more than 5ft.

They are protected species internationally and the court also heard how they are prohibited in Montana to protect native sheep from disease and hybridisation.

Prosecutors say Schubarth sent genetic material from the Marco Polo’s body parts to a lab to create cloned embryos. He then implanted the embryos in ewes on his ranch, resulting in a single, pure genetic male Marco Polo that he named “Montana Mountain King” or MMK, the court heard.

Court documents stated that Schubarth worked with the others to use the Montana Mountain King’s semen to artificially impregnate various other species of ewes and create hybrid animals. He agreed to sell one offspring to two people in Texas for $10,000, the court heard.

To move the prohibited sheep in and out of Montana, Schubarth and others forged veterinary inspection certificates, falsely claiming that the sheep were legally permitted species, the court heard. Prosecutors said Schubarth also sold semen from the Montana Mountain King directly to sheep breeders in other states.

“This was an audacious scheme to create massive hybrid sheep species to be sold and hunted as trophies,” said Todd Kim, assistant attorney general. “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.”

The Lacey Act prohibits trade in wildlife that has been taken, possessed, transported or sold in violation of federal or state law.

Schubarth also illegally purchased genetic material from a Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, the largest wild sheep in North America which stand around three feet tall and can weigh over 21 stone, to traffic to buyers in other states.

He paid $400 to a hunter for the testicles from one of the wild sheep, which had been shot in Montana, to breed more of the species and crossbreed with the argali sheep.

“The kind of crime we uncovered here could threaten the integrity of our wildlife species in Montana,” Ron Howell, head of state wildlife enforcement, said.

Each count carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Sentencing for Schubarth is set for July 11.

On a Facebook page in his name which features numerous photos of livestock, Schubarth wrote two days ago: “We have not been able to sell sheep for about three years now. First time in 80 plus years I’m broke.”

In 2019, Donald Trump Jr, the son of the former president, was condemned by animal rights groups when he went to hunt argali sheep in Mongolia, where they are considered a national treasure.

He reportedly shot one of the creatures, which are on the list of near-threatened species, using a laser-sighted rifle.

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Watch: Meghan bakes and poses in ballgown to debut lifestyle business

The Duchess of Sussex has launched a new lifestyle venture, American Riviera Orchard, that is set to sell jams, cutlery and nut butters…

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Thousands of children exposed to toxic cricket balls in ECB programmes

Toxic cricket balls containing banned chemicals have been used by up to 100,000 primary school children in England & Wales Cricket Board youth programmes.

The ECB has admitted providing children enrolled with All Stars Cricket (five to eight years old) and Dynamos Cricket (eight to 11) with equipment subsequently found to contain compounds called phthalates that were “at levels in excess of those permitted by relevant regulations”.

Phthalates, which aid flexibility in plastics used in household cleaners, food packaging and cosmetics, have been linked to asthma, breast cancer, obesity, type II diabetes and male fertility issues.

The ECB, the website of which boasts that All Stars is “safe”, said: “We are very sorry that the affected products haven’t met the standards we’d expect, and for any concern this may cause.”

It is now recommending hundreds of thousands of balls supplied as part of programmes that began eight years ago are no longer used and that children enrolled on the schemes play with tennis balls instead.

Those to have signed up to eight-week All Stars courses have previously received a backpack, bat, ball and personalised T-shirt.

‘Balls should no longer be used’

In an email sent to parents and guardians of affected youngsters on Thursday, the ECB said an external company had conducted a risk assessment in relation to last year’s balls which had not identified any “direct risk to participants”.

It added: “However, the safety of participants, volunteers and staff is our priority, and out of an abundance of caution, we would advise that the balls should no longer be used.

“The tests also found that the Dynamos Cricket batting tee and PVC banners used in our National Programmes had levels of phthalates in excess of those permitted by relevant regulations.

“We are currently conducting further risk assessments in relation to these items. We are advising clubs and centres providing the programmes that the Dynamos Cricket batting tee and the National Programme PVC banners should no longer be used.”

The ECB said both Trading Standards and the Office for Product Safety and Standards were informed of the issue but there were no plans to recall balls already in circulation from previous years’ programmes.

It added that bats and stumps provided had met the necessary standards and could continue to be used.

However, it also announced it would not provide any gear this year to All Stars participants amid a cost-cutting drive and was therefore reducing the price of the programme by £10.

It said anyone who had already paid the original £40 fee would receive a partial refund and were able to claim a full refund if they wished to cancel altogether.

Programme start date delayed

The ECB had already asked clubs to push back the start of All Stars and Dynamos this spring until May 10 due to the delays in kit provision.

Problems first emerged back in January after parents expressed concern the ECB had not announced timings for the two programmes, a month before the priority booking window normally opens.

That was pushed back to March and then April, with Clubspark, the booking system for registering interest in All Stars and Dynamos, inoperative until a new launch date of April 3 for previous bookers or those who have registered an interest.

According to the ECB, more than 2,200 clubs and centres are registered to run All Stars courses, which its website describes as “a perfect first experience of cricket for all children aged 5-8 years-old”.

It adds: “Children will learn fundamental movement skills including catching, throwing and batting. Soft balls and plastic bats are used by everyone and all participants are given their very own cricket bag full of everything they need to play the game.”

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Dutch king pokes fun at Princess of Wales’s photo-editing row

The King of the Netherlands has waded into the royal Photoshop row by making a joke at the Princess of Wales’s expense.

King Willem-Alexander was greeting members of the public in Zutphen, one of the country’s oldest cities, on Tuesday. As he bent down to speak to a group of flag-waving schoolchildren wearing orange paper crowns, a little girl made a reference to “a photograph with your whole family”.

The King replied: “Really? At least I didn’t Photoshop it.”

The joke was not lost on the adults standing behind the children, who burst out laughing as the grinning monarch moved on to greet another group of onlookers.

‘He appears to joke about Kate-gate’

The Dutch Telegraph (De Telegraaf) described it as a “striking moment during a work visit by King Willem-Alexander in Zutphen, where he appears to joke about Kate-gate”.

It comes after the Princess was forced to admit that she had edited a photograph of herself and her three children released to mark Mothering Sunday.

The portrait was recalled by five of the world’s biggest picture agencies – Getty, Associated Press, Agence France-Presse, Shutterstock and Reuters – because it had been “manipulated”.

The joke exchange was caught on camera by Rick Evers, the Dutch royal reporter, who first revealed that King Charles and the Princess of Wales had been named as the alleged “royal racists” in the Dutch translation of Omid Scobie’s book, Endgame.

Mr Evers posted photographs of the extracts on social media, prompting a row about how the names had found their way into the public domain. The book alleged that both the King and the Princess had made comments about Prince Archie’s skin tone.

Close-knit royal families

King Willem-Alexander and his wife, Queen Maxima, are understood to be on friendly terms with the Prince and Princess of Wales.

The two couples were photographed together at the Order of the Garter service and at Ascot in 2019.

The Dutch royals also attended the King’s Coronation in May last year.

Their daughter, Princess Alexia, studied for the International Baccalaureate at UWC Atlantic College, a boarding school in Wales popular with European royals.

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Private parking firms issue 35,000 fines every day

Private firms are issuing an average of more than 35,000 parking tickets to drivers every day amid a government failure to introduce a code of practice to regulate the industry.

An analysis by the RAC Foundation, the motoring research charity, of government data found that 9.7 million parking tickets were issued to drivers by private parking companies between April and December last year – equivalent to nearly 35,300 a day.

Each ticket can cost drivers up to £100, meaning the total daily loss to motorists can approach £3.5 million.

The RAC said drivers may feel “badly let down” by the Government after a promised crackdown was withdrawn in 2022 following a legal threat by the private parking industry.

Framework withdrawn in 2022

Friday marks the five-year anniversary of the Parking (Code of Practice) Bill receiving Royal Assent and becoming law.

Ministers passed the law after promising to regulate private parking operators, who have been accused of using misleading and confusing signs, aggressive debt collection tactics and imposing unreasonable fees.

However, the operators threatened a legal challenge against the Government, resulting in the framework being withdrawn in 2022 after just six months.

The code – originally laid before Parliament in February 2022 and due to come into force across Britain by the end of last year – stated that the cap on tickets for some parking offences should be halved to £50.

Steve Gooding, the director of the RAC Foundation, said: “Since March 2019, many things have happened. The five years have seen us through four prime ministers, a pandemic and a cost of living crisis.

“But what we’ve not seen is the implementation of the protections MPs were queuing up to support when the Parking (Code of Practice) Act made its way on to the statute book all those years ago.”

A spokesman for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said it would run a public consultation exercise “in due course”.

“We remain committed to introducing the Private Parking Code of Practice to help improve the regulation of the private parking system,” said the spokesman. “The Government continues to work with the industry and consumer groups to reissue the code as quickly as possible.”

Yellow boxes bigger than needed

The news comes as the RAC revealed that almost all yellow box road junctions responsible for generating the most fines in London and Cardiff are bigger than necessary.

Sam Wright, a chartered engineer, was commissioned by the motor insurer to analyse the 100 boxes across the two cities that were responsible for generating the most fines in 2019. He found that 98 were larger than necessary to prevent queuing vehicles blocking the path of crossing traffic.

London and Cardiff were the only parts of the UK in which drivers could be fined for yellow box offences. In other areas, only police forces were able to punish motorists for driving into box junctions when they should not.

However, the Government introduced new legislation in May 2022 to enable councils across England to apply for enforcement powers. A group of 27 councils have since applied for powers to issue traffic fines.

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EasyJet halts trips to zoos in holiday packages over animal welfare concerns

EasyJet has said it will no longer offer trips to zoos and marine parks as part of its holiday packages because of animal welfare concerns…

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