TUCSON - Some of Arizona's famed saguaro cactuses soon will be more difficult to steal than avoiding those pesky needles.
Saguaro National Park officials plan to inject microchips in some of their prickly plants to deter thieves. The idea came after thieves stole 17 saguaros in January 2007, the second big theft in recent years.
Park Ranger Bob Love said the microchips are similar to those implanted in dogs and cats, and are about the size of a grain of rice. They likely will be injected into the cactuses within a year, he said.
Love said the chips will help investigate thefts, but officials hope that they will act as a deterrent.
The cactuses that would get the chips are smaller - about 4 to 7 feet tall - and are near roads. Thieves target those because of their accessibility and lighter weight.
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service puts the chips in shed elk antlers near Jackson Hole, Wyo., where picking up antlers is illegal, and the Lake Mead National Recreation Area uses them in some of their cactuses, Love said.
The chips cost about $4.50 each, and chip readers cost about $600 for handheld models and $2,500 for larger, more accurate ones.
Love said the park would likely buy one of the more accurate readers for each of two districts in the park and several handheld units.