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Microchips helping to prevent cactus poaching in Arizona national parks

Posted at 3:48 PM, Apr 13, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-16 19:49:02-04

An unusual problem at Saguaro National Park requires an unusual solution to stop it. 

Cactus poaching; a lucrative crime that's caught the attention of the national park service. 

"You just kinda look at them and go wow," said Maryland resident Liz Lang. 

Not an uncommon reaction when it comes to Arizona's famed giant cactus. 

Liz Lang, like thousands of others, come to Saguaro National Park every year to see them up close. 

"Amazing to me that they just grow wild," said Lang. 

It turns out their beauty is also tempting thieves to pull them right out of the ground. 

"It's someone just looking for profit, looking for a way to make an easy buck," said Chief Park Ranger Ray O'Neil. 

Chief O'Neil says even small saguaro can fetch a hefty bounty. 

"We understand that they sell for about a hundred dollar a foot, so this little guy is worth four or five hundred dollars," said O'Neil referencing a rather young, albeit 40-year-old saguaro. 
The taller the cactus, the more it's worth. The issue of poaching has become a thorn in the side of Park officials, forcing them to think outside the box. 

"We're looking to microchip cacti that are most likely to be taken," said O'Neil. 

Like your dog or cat, the park is now microchipping hundreds of cacti. Once inserted and scanned, it can lead rangers to exactly where it was taken.  

"We could literally say that this cactus came from this hole in the ground," said O'Neil. "We're looking for the opportunity that if we see a cactus we believe came from the park, we have the opportunity to prove that it did," said O'Neil. 

Park officials say once the microchips are inserted, they are active and readable for several years. 

Cactus poaching has become so prevalent; park officials say they've seen stolen cacti being sold online and even by local landscape companies.