Radio ID Chips Help Fight Cacti Theft in Saguaro National Park

Photo: Copyright Gary Minniss
Who Knew Cacti Theft Was a Big Problem?
You'd think a giant cactus would be pretty hard to steal, but apparently some still manage to do it. In fact, it happens often enough that park managers of the Saguaro National Park want to inject Radio ID Chips (RFIDs) into them to deter thieves. Read on for more details.

From Discovery News:

"Deterrence is the biggest objective for putting microchips into saguaros," said Bob Love, chief ranger for the Arizona park. "If people know that we are doing something electronically then they are less likely to steal them."

The RFID tags are the same ones used in pets or other animals. Each $4 chip will be inserted into the saguaro using a needle and should last the lifetime of the saguaro, which in some cases is more than 200 years. [...]

Thieves typically target saguaros between five and seven feet high, which are about 40 years old. After digging out the shallow root system the thieves then roll the cactus up in a piece of carpet to protect themselves from the needles before loading the succulent into a vehicle and driving off.

The thieves then sell the saguaros to nurseries or land scape architects, usually for up to $2,000 each. There is no law against buying or selling saguaros, but taking Park Service property is a crime. Two men were recently arrested after digging up 17 saguaros during the night. They face up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine.

There's over one million saguaros in the park, but the subset of those that are usually targeted is smaller, allowing this kind of electronic Big Brother monitoring.

The plan is not to track a stolen cactus from a long distance - though park officials are happy to let people think that - but rather to go scan nurseries to find stolen cacti.

Saguaro National Park isn't the first to think of this, though. Lloyd wrote about something similar taking place in Palm Desert, California, in Peak Cactus: Can Microchips Thwart Cailf. Urban-Landscaping Thieves?

For more details, check out Discovery News
Photo: #1 Gary Minniss, Flickr, CC. #2 Wikipedia
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