Following a string of thefts, officials at a national park in Arizona have placed microchips in hundreds of cacti in order to prevent visitors from attempting to steal the plants, KTAR News reported.
The microchips have been placed in about 1,000 cacti at Saguaro National Park near Tucson, Arizona. While the tiny digital tags can’t track the location of a stolen cactus, it can help to identify when one goes missing.
Officials paid about $3,000 to place the chips in the saguaro cacti that are located along the perimeter areas that are accessible to park visitors. The chipped plants are just a small portion of the more than 1.9 million saguaros found throughout the park.
The chips don’t broadcast a signal or provide any sort of tracking mechanism that would allow officials to find a stolen cacti. Instead, the chip has to be scanned with a specialized reader. The system can be used to determine if a cactus was stolen from the park. Officials hope that the presence of the chip is enough to deter visitors from taking a cactus home with them.
“It’s ironic that we set aside great places like Saguaro National Park and people think that they can just come take the iconic cactus for which the park is named,” Kevin Dahl, a program manager for the National Park Conservation Association in Arizona, told KTAR News.
Park officials are unsure just how many of the saguaro cacti have been stolen so far, but they are aware that it has been happening. They have discovered holes in the ground where a cactus used to be, indicating that one was likely stolen.
Saguaro National Park drew more than 950,000 visitors in 2017 to its 92,000 acres of protected land. The total was a new record for the park, which benefited from the growing trend of tourism at national parks across the United States despite budgetary issues plaguing many of the parks.
Saguaro cacti can grow to be over 40-feet tall and weigh more than one ton. The resilient plants that have become a symbol of the Arizona desert can live as long as 200 years.