Microchips Finger Antler, Cactus Thieves

Thanks to modern technology, the long arm of the law is reaching farther than ever before—even when tracking down and apprehending outdoor outlaws.

Microchip technology is becoming increasingly popular among many pet fanciers—including a growing legion of hunters who own sporting dogs—as a method of locating and positively identifying canines that have gone missing.

In addition, microchips are replacing branding irons in many parts of the West, where free-ranging cattle still roam large expanses of private and public lands.

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Officials with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department have recently started inserting tiny microchips into large and highly desirable shed antlers located inside the National Elk Refuge near Jackson Hole, Wyo. to catch those ne’er-do-wells who enter the compound illegally for the sole purpose of antler poaching.

Now, the folks charged with protecting the stately 100-year-old giant cacti that grow only in parts of Arizona’s Sonoran desert are planning to insert electronic tracking devices the size of a rice grain into saguaros to deter an increasing number of cactus thieves who target the unique—and sensitive—succulent.

Officials with Saguaro National Park near Tucson began to look into using the chips after 17 medium-sized saguaros were stolen in January 2007, the second large theft in recent years, according to The Arizona Republic.

The chips being considered for use by the park are passive—without batteries or moving parts—and have a lifetime up to 100 years. They are injected into the plant with a hypodermic needle.

Audrey Hopkins, a representative of chipmaker Biomark Products, said researchers who study long-living species like tortoises and sturgeon are currently using similar technology.

“(The chips) have been functional for many years,” Hopkins said.

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Saguaro National Park ranger Bob Love said the first chips would likely be placed in smaller cactus near roads—the ones normally targeted by poachers.

“They’re looking at saguaros that are generally 4 to 7 feet, something a couple guys could manhandle into a pickup truck,” said Love.

The Arizona park ranger said the use of chip technology would also allow authorities to spot check local plant nurseries, where cactus thieves often sell their spiny contraband.