With their tall, multi-armed profile, saguaro cacti are a classic symbol of the American West, appearing everywhere from Arizona license plates to Peanuts comics. Given that they are also covered with inch-long, needle-like spikes, they are surprisingly vulnerable to theft. To combat cactus poachers, managers of the Saguaro National Park outside of Tuscon, Arizona, have deployed an RFID tracing solution.
Park employees have begun injecting the park’s saguaros with the same type of RFID tags used in livestock tracking solutions. The hope is that the knowledge that there is a way to track and identify the plants will discourage their theft.
“Deterrence is the biggest objective for putting microchips into saguaros,” says 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.”
With the tags costing around $4 each, it is impractical to attempt to tag all of the million or so cacti in the park. Instead, the focus is on the cacti currently in the prime of their (sometimes 200 year) lifespan. Younger and elderly saguaros are usually too small or large for thieves to target.
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