When spines aren't enough

 

If you've ever tried to fondle a saguaro, you know they feature a pretty effective deterrent against such behavior. But spines, it appears, are now passé.

To combat cactus rustlers -- who can sell the saguaros to landscapers -- the National Park Service is planning to imbed microchips into Arizona's most enticing specimens. Once past the planning stages, officials at Saguaro National Park will begin injecting the cacti with dime-sized chips. Rangers will be equipped with magic microchip wands. Wave one over a marked saguaro -- be it in the back of a truck or in a plant nursery -- and bingo, the wand will pick up that plant's unique code.

Saguaros can live to be more than 200 years old. The microchip manufacturer claims its chips can last about half that time.

It's somehow sad that these wild old symbols of the Southwest will now be searchable in a database. But the price just one swiped saguaro can bring -- over $1,000 -- means that the plant's built-in bristling anti-theft devices are no longer adequate. Another case of codifying the wild in order to save it.