National Park officials crack down on illegal cactus sales

Published: Jul. 15, 2015 at 12:11 AM MST|Updated: Feb. 28, 2018 at 5:17 PM MST
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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Saguaro National Park officials are working to protect southern Arizona's iconic saguaro cacti from thieves.

There are roughly 1.6 million saguaro cacti scattered across the east and west parks, according to a park spokeswoman.

Cactus poachers take these saguaros from trail heads or from the side of the road, and sell them on the black market, she said.

A few years ago, park officials began putting microchips in the cacti. These chips can alert officials if the cacti are illegally removed and sold.

Officials said they're going to start asking local nurseries to start scanning cacti being sold to them to check for those microchips.

The number of cacti with microchips is not being released, but officials said they are supposed to act as a deterrent for would-be thieves.

The park service also wants volunteers to go to nurseries to scan cacti to make sure none of them have one with a chip, because nursery employees may not know they bought an illegally obtained cactus.

Mark Sitter, who owns B&B Cactus Farm, said he was told about the scanning effort by a local cactus group and he said he is willing to partake.

"I think it's good for a lot of nurseries to be involved with that to save the native plants. Let's say if they're all removed, it loses the character and sense of place in Tucson, in Southern Arizona," Sitter said.

Officials said it is hard to pinpoint exactly how big the problem is because they do not have hard numbers.

However, they said they do know it is happening, and this move will give them the data to show what kind of situation they are dealing with.

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